In Brief

New Zealand river 'must be treated like a person'

Legislation ends 140-year battle for Whanganui to be recognised as a Maori ancestor

A river in New Zealand has been granted the same legal rights as a human being, ending the longest-running legal dispute in the country's history.

The Whanganui, which is the third-largest river in New Zealand, is now considered by the country's parliament to be legally inseparable from the Maori people who claim it as their home.

The Whanganui tribe have fought for 140 years for the law to recognise the river as their ancestor.

Treating a river like a person is not unusual for the Maori community, who have a saying that goes: "I am the river and the river is me."

Hundreds of representatives from the tribe broke into a traditional song in parliament when their legal battle came to an end, the New Zealand Herald reports.

The river will be now be represented by two people; one legal guardian from the Crown and one from the Whanganui tribe, The Guardian reports.

Gerrard Albert, the Whanganui chief negotiator, says the ruling represents a victory against the "traditional model for the last 100 years of treating it [the river] from a perspective of ownership and management".

He says the tribe is not "anti-development" or opposed to the economic use of the river, but is simply seeking respect and the acknowledgement of their world view.

Treaty negotiations minister Chris Finlayson says he's aware that "some people will say it's pretty strange", but insists the river's new status is "no stranger than family trusts, or companies or incorporated societies".

Previous court rulings have enabled businesses to be treated like individuals under some aspects of the law, but this is the first time in history that a geographical feature has been granted legal personhood.

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