New Zealand’s Parliament has declared that the country’s third-largest river, the Whanganui, has the same legal rights as a person, becoming the first river in the world to be recognized as a living entity. The designation culminates a 140-year campaign by indigenous groups.
Located on the country’s North island, the Whanganui River is closely tied to the culture and ancestry of New Zealand’s Maori tribes, particularly the Whanganui iwi community, which spearheaded the campaign for personhood. “From a Whanganui viewpoint, the wellbeing of the river is directly linked to the wellbeing of the people,” Adrian Rurawhe, who represents the Maori in parliament, told the BBC. “So it is really important that it is recognized as its own identity.”
Parliament passed a bill on Wednesday giving the river all the rights, duties, and liabilities that come with personhood, the NZHerald reported. The new designation also means the river can be represented in court proceedings. Parliament appointed two guardians to act on the river’s behalf: a member of the Whanganui iwi tribe and a representative of the Crown.
The bill is not the first time politicians have enshrined nature with human-like rights. Ecuador changed its constitution in 2008 to give nature “the right to exist, persist, maintain, and regenerate its vital cycles.” In 2010, Bolivia passed the Law of the Rights of Mother Earth, giving nature equal rights to humans.