Ever wish people took the needs of nature as seriously as they took the needs of a living breathing person? In a landmark case in New Zealand, such an event has just happened.
New Zealand made history only days ago by giving the rights of a person to the Whanganui River. Under the preliminary agreement, that means the river will be considered a legal entity and have a legal voice. While the river can’t exactly celebrate the win, we’re sure the Whanganui River iwi, an indigenous community who fought for the rights of the river and who will now have a legal say on its behalf, are ecstatic.
Obviously, a river can’t speak, so, much like a child (or Britney Spears) or a company, the Whanganui will have the iwi and government officials serve legal custodians who will speak up for its best interests.
Christopher Finlayson, New Zealand’s Minister for Treaty for Waitangi Negotiations, said about the decision, “Today’s agreement which recognises the status of the river as Te Awa Tupua (an integrated, living whole) and the inextricable relationship of iwi with the river is a major step towards the resolution of the historical grievances of Whanganui iwi and is important nationally.
“Whanganui Iwi also recognise the value others place on the river and wanted to ensure that all stakeholders and the river community as a whole are actively engaged in developing the long-term future of the river and ensuring its wellbeing.”
We are very curious what this new status will mean for the longterm care of the Whanganui. And, what it will mean for forests, animals, marshes and oceans. If a river can be given the legal status of personhood, why not a tree or a bird? Will this give the river a course of action against polluters? Treehugger reports that Ecuador did the same thing with its forests, lakes, and waterways in 2008 to protect them so it’s not the first time something like this has happened in the world. We’ll have to see how this all shakes out, and what it means for the rest of New Zealand.