A river in New Zealand now has legal status similar to a human being, marking a historic victory for indigenous people. For over 100 years, the Whanganui Iwi have fought over the rights of the Whanganui River, the country’s longest navigable river. Now the New Zealand Parliament has recently passed the Te Awa Tupua Bill, or Whanganui River Claims Settlement Bill, acknowledging past wrongs and declaring the river an indivisible and living whole.
The Whanganui River can now be represented through two human representatives, one appointed by the New Zealand government and the other by the Whanganui Iwi.
It’s been a long battle for the Whanganui Iwi. According to the bill, Whanganui Iwi have sought recognition of their authority over the River, including by pursuing one of New Zealand’s longest-running court cases. Whanganui Iwi spokesperson Gerrard Albert said the people have challenged the government’s impact on the river’s health.