In a unique case, New Zealand's Whanganui River has been granted the same legal rights as a person.
The Whanganui River is located in the central North Island of New Zealand, and is the country's longest navigable waterway, according to New Zealand's tourism website. In precolonial times, the river was an essential navigational route for the indigenous Maori people, according to Time. At the beginning of the era of colonial arrivals, the area surrounding the river was the most densely populated part of the North Island.
The importance of the Whanganui River, also known as Te Awa Tupua, has translated over to modern times. In particular, it is a priority for the Whanganui Iwi, a local tribe.
"The river as a whole is absolutely important to the people who are from the river and live on the river," said Adrian Rurawhe, an indigenous member of New Zealand's parliament, according to Radio New Zealand. "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."
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According to Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson, the Whanganui Iwi have been fighting to have the river recognized as a life since the 1840s, reports Newshub.
Under the settlement bill that the New Zealand parliament passed on March 15, "Te Awa Tupua will have its own legal identity with all the corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a legal person," said Finlayson.
Finlayson also indicated that the bill's passing constituted the end of the longest litigation in New Zealand history, and includes an $80 million redress.
According to Radio New Zealand, the river's representation will function like a charitable trust or an incorporated society. The river will have representatives who will be expected to act on its behalf while keeping its wellbeing in mind. Newshub reports that one of the river's representatives will be appointed by the Whanganui Iwi and the other by the New Zealand Crown.
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New Zealand's Maori Party was particularly happy with the river's newly recognized status and sees it as an opportunity to work for the conservation of the river, reports Radio New Zealand.
"We have a chance to restore Te Awa Tupua to its life-giving essence and, in doing so, to gift back to the Whanganui River Iwi their rightful obligations and responsibilities to the river that runs through their veins," said Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox.
According to Newshub, both the Crown and the Whanganui Iwi will work together to address issues that the river has faced in the past and to ensure the river's wellbeing. The Crown will contribute $30 million to help achieve this goal.