A few weeks back, New Zealand signed a preliminary agreement between the Whanganui River and the Crown that made the river a legal entity, giving it a legal voice. Brendan Puketapu, a member of the Whanganui River Maori Trust, signed on behalf of the river. This landmark decision is the first of its kind since it marks the first time that a river has been given a legal identity in New Zealand.
The New Zealand Herald writes:
A spokesman for the Minister of Treaty Negotiations said Whanganui River will be recognised as a person when it comes to the law – “in the same way a company is, which will give it rights and interests”.
Under the agreement the river is given legal status under the name Te Awa Tupua – two guardians, one from the Crown and one from a Whanganui River iwi, will be given the role of protecting the river.
An agreement between the Crown and local iwi on what the values will be in protecting the river are yet to be decided. A whole river strategy, in collaboration with iwi, local government and commercial and recreational users is still being decided.
This isn’t the first time a government has given nature a legal right. In 2008, Ecuador, frustrated by the exploitation of the Amazon and the Andes, became the first nation to give its mountains, rivers and land a legal voice. The Legal Defense Fund assisted the country in forming a constitution that gave the people the right to sue on behalf of the local environment and ecosystem.