Whanganui River is now a person

A section of the Whanganui River, soon to have all the rights, duties, and liabilities of a legal person. Image: Google Maps.

The Maori Party says history has been made with the passing of the Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claims Settlement) Bill through its third reading in the House yesterday.

The river will now have its own legal identity with all the corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a legal person.

It follows the example used in the Tuhoe Settlement Bill which saw Te Urewera National Park become a legal entity in 2014.

Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson says the approach of granting legal personality to a river is ‘unique'.

“It responds to the view of the iwi of the Whanganui River, who have long recognised Te Awa Tupua through its traditions, customs and practice. This legislation recognises the deep spiritual connection between the Whanganui iwi and their ancestral river and creates a strong platform for the future of Whanganui River.”

Financial redress of $80 million is included in the settlement. The Crown will also contribute $30 million towards a contestable fund to further the health and wellbeing of the Whanganui River.

Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox says the decision reflects the courage of the ‘many champions' who first tabled the Wai 167 Claim in 1990.

“We have a chance to restore Te Awa Tupua to its life-giving essence and, in doing so, to gift back to the Whanganui River iwi their rightful obligations and responsibilities to the river that runs through their veins.”

Fellow co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell says the Maori Party is proud and humbled to support the legislation.

“We acknowledge the sacrifice and suffering of the Whanganui River iwi who have endured and fought for nearly 150 years to stop the exploitation of their life force which has helped heal, purify and sustain them.”

In theory, the river remains insentient and composed principally of water, a fact unlikely to be altered by the government's $1 million contribution towards establishing the river's new legal framework.

What are your thoughts? Are there any rivers or mountains in the Bay of Plenty you'd like to see declared a person? Let us know in the comments below, or over on our Facebook page.



Posted on 30-03-2017 13:15 | By Roadkill

Trusts and Companies have some purpose as being a legal entity, a river does not.

family trusts and companies have personal legal status

Posted on 22-03-2017 21:13 | By Peter Dey

There are a number of issues involved with the Whanganui River having the legal status as a person, but family trusts and companies also have the same status. In the case of the Whanganui River the Treaty of Waitangi grants ownership of the River to Iwi. They have never given that ownership right away. Granting the River personal legal status removes the argument of ownership. Nobody now owns the River. It is a major gift on the part of Iwi to now let go their ownership claim. We should all be grateful.

Anthropomorphism is not just an iwi thing.

Posted on 19-03-2017 14:42 | By morepork

I'm surprised at some of the reactions here to the idea of the river being personified. It requires a broader cultural view to see that it really isn't stupid; just a different culture with a different emphasis on something that many of us do and never even think about. Every time I return to Tauranga after a trip, my spirits leap to see the Mount (who I perceive as a Green Beret guarding the entrance to Tauranga harbour...). Does that make me stupid? If you have a pet lamb (call him "Larry") and the time comes for Larry to be Sunday roast, how many people can't eat it because it's "Larry"? (No, it is actually "food"; Larry departed the moment it died...) How many people name their cars and refer to them affectionately by that name? We are not so different.


Posted on 19-03-2017 14:33 | By morepork

You raise a very valid point (if a little brutally). The legal position of the river (represented by the iwi) is something that needs to be clarified. It would be unreasonable to hold the river or the iwi responsible for anyone who drowns in it, but, by making it a legal entity it is certainly open to civil litigation. Interesting to see what happens...


Posted on 19-03-2017 14:29 | By morepork

If this is the most stupid thing you ever heard, then you probably need to get out more. See my response to Dino.


Posted on 19-03-2017 14:27 | By morepork

Your post made me smile, thanks. :-)


Posted on 19-03-2017 14:25 | By morepork

it isn't "beyond comprehension" but in order to comprehend it, you need to adopt a different frame of reference. Marama Fox says the river flows through the veins of the iwi; obviously, she doesn't mean it literally.


Posted on 19-03-2017 11:29 | By R. Bell

Your reference to what was a despicable crime, shows not only your lack of compassion but also your inherent lack of judgment. You should not embarrass yourself so often. Robin Bell.


Posted on 17-03-2017 19:35 | By Hunterway

Cool.The family of the next person to drown or be injured on the river will now be able to sue the arse out of the Whanganui river tribe and by the time ACC has finished we should be in the red again.Noel

Yeah right Robin

Posted on 17-03-2017 16:15 | By NZer

So now the river is a person no one will abuse it anymore... Try telling Nia Glassie that.....

Once again a misleading headline,

Posted on 17-03-2017 08:57 | By R. Bell

sets off the "baying of the wolves" The river remains a river, the purpose of its new legal status is to protect it from the kind of abuse so common for generations. No one here expresses any concern whatsoever for that abuse. Narrow minds produce the kind of comments here.Fletch says hes'e never heard anything so stupid. Read the comments fletch. Robin Bell.


Posted on 17-03-2017 08:20 | By Captain Sensible

Now we can see why Chris Finlayson has failed four times to get elected but snuck in on the party list. It is scandalous that an MP, rejected so many times by the electorate, is in one of the top jobs giving our money away like it's pay back for the rejections.

Mr/Mrs/Miss.Whanganui River Esq.

Posted on 16-03-2017 23:46 | By Theodorus

Reading the said river is now a Human Being makes me starting to believe we originated from the Apes! (by Theodorus)

Have they lost their minds?

Posted on 16-03-2017 21:32 | By Dagsy

WTF! Wanganui iwi have totally lost their minds!the world will be laughing at Wanga's.I am so glad I got outa that dead end town.ie: look at those loonys that think their river is a living human being.so where is the heart of this living, breathing human being?there is a river classed as a human being and I am now the Easter bunny during Easter and Santa clause at the end of the year. My other job is the tooth fairy.Aliens picked me up last nite and took me for a sightseeing tour of Mars, where I met Elvis. Yes, he is alive and well and living on Mars

Wow again

Posted on 16-03-2017 18:21 | By fletch

Forgot to add. How does it get important mail. IE Voting papers at election time?

Like a person

Posted on 16-03-2017 17:54 | By NZer

Now the river is a person and has just earned 80 million dollars it will need to pay tax like every other person in NZ. So lets see tax on $80 million is a lot of money to be returned to the crown thankyou...

Is it 'April Fools' day!!

Posted on 16-03-2017 15:50 | By Laurie

Will Mr/s Whanganui River be issued with an IRD number so that tax can be paid on the $30 million fund to further the health and wellbeing of Mr/s Whanganui River - sorry no I forgot these tribal entities pay little or no tax. If this wasn't so serious it would be laughable!!

The River

Posted on 16-03-2017 15:27 | By surfsup

The majority of hard working tax paying citizens must shake their heads in disbelief that such stupidity can be undertaken by the same people who are charged with running the country.How much further will this P.C nonsense go on for, surely the media have a role to play in asking the hard hitting questions to Finlayson and whoever was behind this.


Posted on 16-03-2017 15:23 | By Mackka

I was born in Wanganui also - without the 'H".... If you want to swim in the river - or indeed do anything at all in the river or on it's banks you'll PAY FOR IT! ... I feel sorry for those commercial operators running the tourist boats. They will PAY, PAY and PAY some more!!


Posted on 16-03-2017 14:33 | By Captain Sensible

Third world NZ masquerading as a first world country.Shambolic. Embarrassing. Typical.


Posted on 16-03-2017 13:55 | By jimmyant

Sorry meant to be Haurangi Te Awa.Look it up!


Posted on 16-03-2017 13:39 | By overit

I was born in Wanganui, notice I do not use an H. So with $30mill it be swimmable and totally safe? One would hope so.


Posted on 16-03-2017 13:30 | By jimmyant

Surely this takes the PC/Mumbo Jumbo to the highest level yet?Sure - totally support looking after the river for ALL New Zealanders!If it is a person then it needs to have a name. My suggestion is Hauranga Te Awa

What gender is it?

Posted on 16-03-2017 12:52 | By Papamoaner

Does it have a cellphone? Should we address it as maam or sir?


Posted on 16-03-2017 12:35 | By Dino

This is beyond comprehension....what is our country coming to? $80million - imagine the people that could help that are "living below the poverty line" - imagine all the kids this could give breakfasts to - imagine all the housing that could be constructed for those in dire straights.......NZ gone mad

Gone too Far!

Posted on 16-03-2017 12:31 | By Mackka

What a load of 'crap'! ..... there will be no end to this new gravy train..... I guess the river will have it's own lawyer who will be looking out for it's human rights etc etc . It would be funny if it wasn't so sad. .. PC gone overboard! ..What a spineless government we have got.


Posted on 16-03-2017 12:30 | By dumbkof2

how can a river possibly be classified a person. i always understood a person is a living breathing human being. looks to me like another big rip off by the I Want It crowd. next the sky and the ground and everything else will be a person now so more money can be extracted. time all this nonsence was stopped.


Posted on 16-03-2017 11:37 | By fletch

I dont think I have ever heard anything so stupid he

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