We Are the World

In New Zealand—or Aotearoa, as it is known to the indigenous Māori people—the Whanganui River has been awarded personhood status.

| May/June 2013

  • We Are The World
    New Zealand—Aotearoa, as it is known to the indigenous Māori people—the Whanganui River is now a legal person.
    Photo By Aidan

  • We Are The World

In a land where corporations are considered people, it’s a bit of a leap to imagine nature attaining the same status. But as Brendan Kennedy reports for Cultural Survival Quarterly (December 2012), in New Zealand—Aotearoa, as it is known to the indigenous Māori people—the Whanganui River is now a legal person.

“Indigenous peoples around the world often struggle with governments that do not recognize their view of the natural environment,” writes Kennedy. Where the Māori strive to conserve and enhance, non-Māori typically seek to industrialize and maximize profit. Thus, indigenous worldviews often directly conflict with non-indigenous practices of property ownership. Awarding the river personhood status, then, is a significant victory for the Māori.

According to the new agreement, the river will have two guardians—one appointed by the Whanganui Iwi tribe and one by the British Crown—that promote the physical, ecological, spiritual, and cultural rights of the river.

Such an agreement has few precedents, however. While the news brings hope, Kennedy warns of the possibility that the river’s guardians might restrict Whanganui Iwi rights to the river with no room for recourse. Still, he calls the agreement cause for “cautious optimism as Indigenous Peoples continue to fight for the recognition of their views of the natural world.”

7/26/2013 3:42:38 PM

That is a sad story, but the effort can be renewed, Melinda, on other concerns. Why not? We must do what we must do. We have victories, too! Kathy -- Bless us all and our beautiful, generous, fragile planet Mother Earth! "It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society." - Krishnamurti "If we don't do the impossible, we shall be faced with the unthinkable." -- Petra Kelly (1947-1992), founder of the German Green Party

7/26/2013 3:37:31 PM

Yea, for our planet, Mother Earth! Yea for Mother Nature! Yea for us all following suit!

6/1/2013 3:58:35 PM

Standing, or the right of nature to bring legal action, has been discussed in environmental law since at least the 1980s, I remember that from an environmental law class taught by the professor-lawyer who tried to stop the building of the Tellico River Dam near Knoxville based on the feared loss of a species, the endangered snail darter fish. But sadly, the dam was built anyway and the waters behind it covered up the site of the former Cherokee capital and probably other historic Native American sites.

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