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.