Applaud New Zealand for Granting Legal Rights to River

Target: Chris Finlayson, Attorney-General of New Zealand

Goal: Praise parliament member for his role in granting legal personhood to New Zealand’s third-largest river, ensuring its protection and restoration.

The Whanganui River has long been held sacred by the Maori of New Zealand’s North Island. The Whanganui Iwi, or tribe, for whom the river was named, refer to it as Te Awa Tupua, It is a term not easily translated into English, but which encompasses the notion that the river is a whole and indivisible being. The Whanganui and other iwis have fought for decades with the New Zealand government and officials to uphold this belief and to protect the river from harm and exploitation without success- until now. The New Zealand Parliament has recently declared that the Whanganui should be considered a legal person with rights to representation.

The parliament’s decision will benefit far more than the Maori, however. As part of the settlement made with the tribes, $80 millionwill be rewarded to help restore the river and protect it from future harm. This means that endangered wildlife such as the blue duck and a number of endemic species of fish will have a chance to recover and thrive. It also means that the river now has the same legal protections as a corporation or trust, with both tribal and Crown representation, meaning it will be more difficult for businesses or individuals to overrule the interests of the river or the tribes. Any instances of harm or abuse to the river will by law be recognized as an attack against the Whanganui Iwi.

This unprecedented move has the potential to influence decision-making regarding the environment worldwide. Within days of the parliament’s vote, India announced that it too would grant legal personhood to its sacred Ganges River. We live in a world where the personhood of nonhuman entities such as family trusts or corporations is readily accepted, so it should not be considered so unusual that a river that the local Maori feel such a deep investment and connection to should also have such protection.

As Adrian Rurawhe, a Maori member of New Zealand’s Parliament stated, “It’s not that we’ve changed our worldview, but people are catching up to seeing things the way that we see them.”

Sign this petition to thank New Zealand’s Attorney-General for negotiating this treaty and ensuring that the Whanganui’s rights will be protected going forward.


Dear Minister Finlayson,

I am pleased to hear that the Whanganui River will be protected under its new legal personhood status, and that much-needed funds will be dedicated to restoring and improving its health. You have championed this cause, and in doing so, you have set an important precedent not only for New Zealand but for the world at large. Now thanks to Parliament’s decision, wildlife such as the endangered blue duck will benefit and the Maori will ensure that their voices are heard when it comes to issues related to the river.

With India’s recent proclamation declaring the Ganges River a legal person as well, it is hopeful that other nations will follow suit and declare key parts of the environment as legal persons worthy of the same protections as the for-profit corporations which would seek to destroy them.

Thank you for taking this important stand to defend the river’s rights and to undo some of the damage wrought by colonialism.


[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: Felix Engalhardt

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  1. Gen Lovyet Agustsson says:

    clean river is good enough

  2. This is great news for the river and it’s inhabitants. I think all ANIMALS should should be granted legal personhood as well. This would go a long way to protect them from cruelty.

    • SO… do you know your dog or cat wants to be neutered?

      HOW do you know he/ she wants to be walked on a leash, as opposed to running free?

      I’m bringing these silly things up, because if animals were granted legal rights, these would become legitimate concerns.

      PETA believes NO ONE should own any pets……which is naive, stupid nonsense, dogs and cats NEED people, they can no longer survive on their own, or if they are on their own, their lives are brutal, painful and short. BUT that would become another legitimate issue if animals were given legal “personhood” rights.

      • You bring up some interesting points, which I appreciate. I think, though, that if animals were to be granted personhood, it would be a good thing. I think these issues SHOULD be discussed and debated.
        Animals have been ignored, exploited, abused, tortured and killed by humans for thousands of years. Many millions, or billions, of animals RIGHT NOW are suffering abuse or torture by humans.
        I think it’s time for THEIR needs, sufferings and rights to stop being ignored. They need to be acknowledged as living sentient individuals, and given personhood. The issues of what all their rights are can be debated.

  3. Dr. Tony DeLia says:

    If intangible “corporations” are granted person-hood then sentient beings and physical ecosystems cannot possibly be denied the same status by fair minded people. Fortunately there are countries besides the US with actual sane and humane governments. Way to go NZ!

    • I agree. If sentient beings and physical ecosystems would be granted person-hood, everything would change. It would (hopefully) bring about an awakening of people’s consciences and compassion, which would greatly benefit animals and nature.

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