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New Zealand River Granted Personhood
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Whanganui River

Summary: The Whanganui River in New Zealand was granted the legal status of a person in order to protect the river’s future.

While it may sound unusual for a river to be deemed a person but the people of the New Zealand have granted that status to their beloved Whanganui River. The iwi of Whanganui have been trying to accomplish this for multiple generations.


Granting the river personhood will create a charitable trust with trustees that will be legally required to act in its best interest. Te Tai Hauauru MP Adrian Rurawhe explains that this concept is normal for Maori. He said, “The river as a whole is absolutely important to the people who are from the river and live on the river. It’s not that we’ve changed our world view but people are catching up to seeing things how we see it.”

The fight to give the river this recognition has been going on for over 160 years. Mr. Rurawhe added, “From a Whanganui viewpoint the wellbeing of the river is directly linked to the wellbeing of the people and so it is really important that’s recognized as its own identity.” There will be one iwi member and one Crown representative acting as the river’s voice.

Lead negotiator for the iwi, Gerrard Albert, said, “We’ve always fought for the mana of the river. We treat the river as a tupuna, as an ancestor, and we needed to find something that would approximate that in law and uphold it. And from there, ensure that people understand it and work with it.”

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Jacinta Ruru, Professor of Law at Otago University, said, “The way we’re interacting with the world is changing, particularly with climate change. The legal personality idea puts the environment right up front and centre. Here’s a way we can ensure that we consider the wellbeing of the environment – land or rivers – and we have to be respectful. I see that legal personality concept as something that is very exciting.”

A similar legal change was made in 2014 to give Te Urewera, Tuhoe’s tribal lands, the same status.

Do you think more landmarks like this one should be given similar status? Tell us in the comments below.

To learn more about other things being granted personhood, read these articles:



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