08:55 GMT +318 October 2019
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    Britain's Prince Harry (2nd R) paddles in a waka (Maori war canoe) on the Whanganui river during a visit to Whanganui on May 14, 2015. Prince Harry arrived in New Zealand on May 9 for a week-long visit.

    New Zealand River to Become 'Legal Person' With Full 'Human Rights'

    © AFP 2019 / Marty Melville
    Asia & Pacific
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    In a world first, the Whanganui River in New Zealand has been granted the same legal rights as a human being. It comes after 140 years of negotiations by a Maori tribe to win recognition for the river to be protected as a living entity.

    For the local Maori tribe of Whanganui in the north island, this groundbreaking development has been a long time coming.

    They've been campaigning since the 1870s for the spirit of their river to be recognized by the government.

    On Wednesday March 15, they won their fight — also the longest legal battle in New Zealand's history.

    The Whanganui River will became the first ever river to be legally recognized as an entity, complete with all the rights of a person. It's legal government name: Te Awa Tupua.

    Te Tai Hauauru MP Adrian Rurawhe acknowledged that while some people may find the news strange, it is completely normal for Maori.

    Speaking after the signing of the bill on Wednesday, Mr. Rurawhe said:

    "The river as a whole is absolutely important to the people who are from the river and live on the river.

    "I'll repeat something that [MP] Chester Burrows said in [Parliament] today — it's not that we've changed our world view but people are catching up to seeing things how we see it."

    Mr. Rurawhe posted a video showing supporters of the bill singing in parliament after the third reading of Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claims Settlement) Bill, on his Facebook page.

    The legislation is not just a symbolic nod towards Maori culture. In practice, the new law will work like a charitable trust or an incorporated society, with trustees for the river legally required to act in its best interest.

    It will be an official extension of the local community's saying: "Ko au te awa. Ko te awa ko au," meaning, "I am the river. The river is me."

    It's not the first time the river has hit the headlines. During Prince Harry's 2015 visit to New Zealand, the paddled his way up the Whanganui River with the crew of a traditional waka (canoe).

    Two guardians will be appointed to act on behalf of the Whanganui River, one from the government and one from the Whanganui iwi [tribe].

    It's believed that this could set a precedent for other indigenous tribes in New Zealand to follow in Whanganui's footsteps.

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    Tags:
    Maori, river, tribe, human rights, Whanganui River, New Zealand
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