The Whanganui River in New Zealand is a treasured natural wonder and has deep spiritual significance to New Zealand’s Maori people. It is the country’s longest navigable river and is known as the Rhine of New Zealand. It is also legally a person.
In 2017, The Crown officially recognized the Whanganui River as a legal person after New Zealand’s longest-running legal battle. For the Whanganui tribe, the river holds great importance, both as a nurturer of life and as a deity.
The river basin is home to several settlements of the Whanganui tribe with its fertile basin and shining waters. The tribe has deep connections with the river and views it as a giver of life. This relationship is comparable to that between a mother and child. Therefore, just as a child has the responsibility to care for their parent, the tribe sees the well-being of the river as its responsibility.
After colonial settlement, the right of the tribe to care for this river was violated, and this continued to be the case even after its independence.
Thus in 2017, the Treaty of Waitangi settlement gave guardianship of the river to the Whanganui tribe.
This move has helped the river thrive and has given it the right to sue anyone who infringes upon its well-being.
Following this example, the Te Urewera Park was also granted legal personhood.
Thus by empowering nature, not only are we preserving the environment and securing a better future, but also protecting the heritage of marginalized communities.
Given the state of our planet, the time to act is now. Policy measures go a long way and giving nature legal personhood will put us on the path of conservation.