Newspaper article International New York Times

In New Zealand, Personhood Extends to Rivers and Parks

Newspaper article International New York Times

In New Zealand, Personhood Extends to Rivers and Parks

Article excerpt

In a deal with Maori groups, Parliament has agreed on a way to protect natural features without them being owned by anyone, including the state.

Can a stretch of land be a person in the eyes of the law? Can a body of water?

In New Zealand, they can. A former national park has been granted personhood, and a river system is expected to receive the same soon.

The unusual designations, something like the legal status that corporations possess, came out of agreements between New Zealand's government and Maori groups. The two sides have argued for years over guardianship of the country's natural features.

Chris Finlayson, New Zealand's attorney general, said the issue was resolved by taking the Maori mind-set into account. "In their worldview, 'I am the river and the river is me,"' he said. "Their geographic region is part and parcel of who they are."

From 1954 to 2014, Te Urewera was an 821-square-mile national park on the North Island, but when the Te Urewera Act took effect, the government gave up formal ownership, and the land became a legal entity with "all the rights, powers, duties and liabilities of a legal person," as the statute puts it.

"The settlement is a profound alternative to the human presumption of sovereignty over the natural world," said Pita Sharples, who was the minister of Maori affairs when the law was passed. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.