The other day a very important piece of legislation was made into law. The Whanganui River now has the same legal status as a person.
The river itself is an entity it can have representatives and I suppose it can also be held responsible for things.
This gives real weight to the concept of the land being a “living thing” as it now is a legal “thing” .
It is the first time in the world that this has happened.
Tuhoe argued on settlement of their treaty claim that, no one owned Te Urewera (the national park and environs), it also was it is “own thing”. This was acknowledged but it is not an entity and has joint custodians, the Tuhoe and the Crown. The Whanganui river is a step on from this, being its “own thing”, in the form of a “legal entity.”
This has a major impact for us, the land being given a voice, and we at Isthmus take our land seriously. We have often considered the land as our client.
Perhaps this could only happen in New Zealand and this is one of the things which makes our home so interesting. Land, ownership and cultural identity are bound together in collective histories, and in law and in each of our own cultural identities.
The river now has a voice, it will be very interesting to listen to what it has to say in the future.
Also of note is that a week after the Whanganui River law, both the Ganges and Yamuna rivers in India obtained a similar status in their case “the status of living human entities.”