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River given legal status of a person

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 15/03/2017

The Whanganui River has been given the legal status of a person under a treaty settlement bill that's just been passed by parliament.

It's believed to be a world first.

Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson says Whanganui Iwi has fought for recognition of its relationship with the river since the 1870s.

The iwi recognises the river, Te Awa Tupua, as part of the living mountains and the sea.

"Te Awa Tupua will have its own legal identity with all the corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a legal person," Mr Finlayson said.

"The approach of granting legal personality to a river is unique."

Mr Finlayson said the river would have the ability to represent itself through human representatives, one appointed by the iwi and one by the Crown.

"I know some people will say it's pretty strange to give a natural resource a legal personality, but it's no stranger than family trusts, or companies, or incorporated societies," he said.

"For Whanganui Iwi it means they have a representative speaking for the river, the Crown has a representative speaking for the river, and they are focused on addressing many of the problems the river has had over the last 140 years."

Mr Finlayson says the passing of the bill ends the longest-running litigation in New Zealand's history.

It includes $80 million financial redress, and an additional $1m as a contribution towards establishing the legal framework for the river.

The Crown will also contribute $30m to a contestable fund for looking after the river's health.

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