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Archive for Maori

When Rivers Hold Legal Rights

See full article in Earth Island Institute
by Shannon Biggs of Movement Rights– April 17, 2017

New Zealand and India recognize personhood for ecosystems

Winding its way through dense forest laced with hidden waterfalls, the Whanganui River is the largest navigable river in Aotearoa, the Māori word for New Zealand. With the passage of the Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claims Settlement) Bill in March, the river became the first water system in the world to be recognized as a rights-bearing entity, holding legal “personhood” status. One implication of the agreement is that the Whanganui River is no longer property of New Zealand’s Crown government — the river now owns itself.

When Rivers Hold Legal Rights, Earth Island Institute Photo by Kathrin & Stefan Marks

In March, the Whanganui River in New Zealand became the first water body in the world to receive legal personhood status. Photo by Kathrin & Stefan Marks

Five days after the Te Awa Tupua Bill, the High Court of Uttarakhand at Naintal, in northern India, issued a ruling declaring that both the Ganga and Yumana rivers are also “legal persons/living persons.” But what does it mean for a river, or an ecosystem to hold rights? The answer may vary from place to place.

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About the author:

Shannon Biggs
Shannon Biggs is the Executive Director of Movement Rights, advancing rights for Indigenous peoples, communities, and ecosystems. She is also the co-founder of the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature and the co-editor of the book, The Rights of Nature: The Case for the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth.

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 www.ronmertens.com

Whanganui River by Ron Mertens www.ronmertens.com

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