Whanganui River given rights as a legal identity

” Ko au te awa, Ko te awa ko au ~ I am the river and the river is me” expresses the special, spiritual relationship the iwi peoples (Maori) hold with the Whanganui river.

In a landmark preliminary agreement between the Crown government of New Zealand and the Whanganui River iwi, the Whanganui River was granted legal personhood status.  The agreement extends rights and standing as a person for the Whanganui River.

Whanganui River by Ron Mertens

Whanganui River by Ron Mertens

The agreement recognizes the river and all its tributaries as a single entity, Te Awa Tupua, and makes it a legal entity with rights and interests, and the owner of its own river bed.  Two guardians, one from the Crown and one from a Whanganui River iwi, will be given the role of protecting the river.  Once the details of the agreement are complete, the iwi and government officials will serve as legal custodians as legal guardians represent children today.

The agreement has been a long time coming.  The iwi have sought legal protection of the river since 1873. The Whanganui River Maori Trust Board, whose Chairman Dr. Brendon Puetapu signed the agreement, was constituted in 1988 under the Maori Trust Boards Act 1955.

The Whanganui River historically has been an important communication route into the central part of the North Island of New Zealand for settlers and local Moari.   Rising from high on the volcanic plateau of Mt Tomaririo, the Whanganui River winds through deep canyons clad with native tree ferns until it opens into the valleys and coastal dunes of the Tasman Sea.

We congratulate the Whanganui River iwi, the Crown and all of New Zealand for this historic move.

For more information see Agreement entitles Whanganui River to legal identity

Also see Rivers and Natural Ecosystems as Rights Bearing