In World First, This River Now Has the Same Rights as You

Whanganui River granted legal rights
By Linda Hervieux,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 16, 2017 8:10 AM CDT
Britain's Prince Harry, second from left, front, helps to paddle a Maori waka (canoe) down the Whanganui River in Wanganui, New Zealand, on May 14, 2015.   (Ross Setford/SNPA via AP)
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(Newser) – If this sounds like nothing you've ever heard before, that's because it is indeed a first: A river in New Zealand has been granted the same legal rights as a human being. The move ends a 140-year effort (called the longest-running litigation in Kiwi history) on the part of a Maori tribe who claim the Whanganui River as an ancestor. The settlement, passed into law by Parliament on Wednesday, means that harming the river on the North Island is equivalent to harming a person. "We consider the river an ancestor and always have," Whanganui tribal negotiator Gerrard Albert tells the Guardian. He says the fight was over finding a legal means of treating the river, the country's third-longest, "as a living entity" instead "treating it from a perspective of ownership and management."

The "Whanganui Treaty settlement" includes $80 million in redress and another $30 million to ensure the river's health, per the BBC. Two guardians will be named, one from the tribe and another from the crown, who would represent the waterway in court proceedings. Legislator Adrian Rurawhe explains the concept is normal to the Maori and best captured in the tribal saying, "I am the river and the river is me." He tells the New Zealand Herald that maybe the rest of the world is finally catching up with the Maori and "seeing things the way that we see them." Still think it's, well, bizarre? New Zealand's treaty negotiations minister provides another way to look at it: "It's no stranger than family trusts, or companies or incorporated societies." (Americans are racing to get New Zealand citizenship since Trump's election.)

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