Pacific News Minute: New Zealand’s Whanganui River Granted the Legal Status of a Person

Mar 21, 2017

Credit Wikimedia Commons

In this country, a company or a corporation has the legal status of a person.  In New Zealand, parliament granted personhood to a river last week.  That’s apparently the first time that’s ever happened…we have details from Neal Conan in the Pacific News Minute.


The newly personified river is the Whanganui, on New Zealand’s North Island.  At about 90 miles, it’s the third longest in the country, and the subject of disputes between local Maoris and the government since 1873.


“I know the initial inclination of some people will say it’s pretty strange to give a natural resource a legal personality,” Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson told the New Zealand Herald, 'but it’s no stranger than family trusts, or companies or incorporated societies.”


And not strange at all for the local Maori iwi, or tribe, Member of Parliament Adrian Rurawhe said, “From a Whanganui viewpoint, the wellbeing of the river is directly linked to the wellbeing of the people.”  He then cited a Whanganui saying: “‘Ko au te awa, ko te awa ku au’” - I am the River, and the River is me.”


The Whanganui River Claims Settlement Bill calls for two officials to represent the river, one from the tribe, the other from the government, and provides a financial settlement that totals nearly 80 million dollars.


In a precedent, an 821 square mile national park on the North Island became a legal entity in 2014, with all the rights powers, duties and liabilities of a legal person…asked whether the idea might catch on elsewhere, Treaty Negotiations Minister Finlayson told the New York Times last year, that he’d talked the concept over with Canada’s Justice Minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould.