On March 16, 2017, the New Zealand parliament made history by becoming the first country in the world to recognize a river as a living entity, essentially giving it the same rights as a human. The honor was given to the Whanganui River, the nation's third longest. It had been a matter of debate between the government and New Zealand's Maori people since the year 1840. The Whanganui will be represented by two representatives. One will be selected from the Maori community (known as Iwi), and one will be appointed by the government.
What Does It Mean?
One of the main implications of this ruling is that the Whanganui River will now be given representation in court proceedings. It is an effort to ensure its environmental protection. It is not the first time that New Zealand has granted personhood to a non-person: in 2014, the Te Urewera national park was granted the same rights by the government.
The Significance of the Whanganui
The Whanganui is an extremely sacred site for the Maori people of New Zealand. There is a saying in the Maori language which roughly translates to "I am the river and the river is me." Much of the Whanganui River is located in Whanganui National Park.