The Whanganui River has been granted legal personhood by the government of New Zealand, a landmark agreement that comes after a hundred years of advocacy by the Whanganui iwi, an indigenous community with strong cultural ties to the river.
The Whanganui, the third longest river in New Zealand, will be recognized as a person under the law “in the same way a company is, which will give it rights and interests,” Christopher Finlayson, a spokesperson for the Minister of Treaty Negotiations, told the New Zealand Herald.
Organizations that work to protect the rights of indigenous communities worldwide are celebrating the agreement as an affirmation of the inextricable relationship between indigenous communities and natural ecosystems.
“The recognition of the personhood of the Whanganui River represents a landmark moment in legal history,” Suzanne Benally, the Executive Director of Cultural Survival, wrote in an email to TakePart. “Nature cannot be seen solely as a resource to be owned, exploited and profited from; it is a living and sustaining force that needs to be honored, respected, and protected by all of us.”
Treehugger points out that this isn’t the first time the natural world has received monumental rights—or a good lawyer.
In 2008, Ecuador became the first nation in the world to recognize the legal rights of its mountains, rivers, and land.
Frustrated by the exploitation of the Amazon and the Andes by multinational mining and oil corporations, delegates in Ecuador turned to the Pennsylvania-basedCommunity Environmental Legal Defense Fund to help rewrite the country’s constitution.