Whanganui River gets the rights of a legal person

The Whanganui river, here winding through Taumarunui.

The Whanganui river, here winding through Taumarunui.

The Whanganui River has gained its own legal identity with all the corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a legal person.

Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claims Settlement) Bill, which passed its third reading in Parliament on Wednesday, will establish a new legal framework for the river.

It recognised the river as an indivisible and living whole from the mountains to the sea.


The Whanganui River has become the first in the world to be granted the legal status of a person. "We've always fought for the mana of the river,"says the lead negotiator for Whanganui iwi, Gerrard Albert."We treat the river as a tupuna, as an ancestor, and we needed to find something that would approxiamate that in law and uphold it. And from there, ensure that people understand it and work with it."

"The approach of granting legal personality to a river is unique," Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Minister Christopher Finlayson said. "It responds to the view of the iwi of the Whanganui River which has long recognised Te Awa Tupua through its traditions, customs and practise."

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The legislation recognised the deep spiritual connection between the Whanganui iwi and its ancestral river and created a strong platform for the future of Whanganui River, Finlayson said.

"Whanganui iwi has fought for recognition of its relationship with the Whanganui River since the 1870s," Finlayson said. "Today brings the longest running litigation in New Zealand's history to an end."

Financial redress of $80 million was included in the settlement as well as an additional $1 million contribution towards establishing the legal framework for the river.

The Crown would also contribute $30 million towards a contestable fund to further the health and wellbeing of the Whanganui River.

Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox said the move followed the example used in the Tuhoe Settlement Bill which saw Te Urewera National Park become a legal entity in 2014.

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"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."

 - Stuff

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