It looks just like a long ribbon of flowing water – but don’t offend it, or it might sue you

No longer just another river…

So, Chris Finlayson and a bunch of Crown negotiators have breathed life into the Wanganui River.

This chicanery – according to the Stuff report here – has turned the river into a legal entity with a legal voice.

According to a spokesman for the Minister of Treaty Negotiations, it will be recognised as a person when it comes to the law – “in the same way a company is, which will give it rights and interests”.

No magic was required. This miracle has been performed under a preliminary agreement signed between Wanganui River iwi and the Crown.

It will go down in the history books as the first time a river has been given a legal identity.

The first time a river has been deemed to be a living thing, too.

Now that it has been recognised as a person when it comes to the law, as Finlayson’s flunky says, when will it start behaving like one?

When will it start demanding fees from people who swim in it or sail on it, for example?

Can it be sued if it floods and causes damage to other people’s properties?

And can it sue people who piss it off – for example, people who piss in it?

The agreement was signed on behalf of Whanganui iwi by Brendan Puketapu of the Whanganui River Maori Trust, which represents a group of iwi along the river, and the Crown in Parliament.

And sure enough, the Crown has buckled to one more demand for co-governance.


One half local Maori, one half the Crown.

Under the agreement the river is given legal status under the name Te Awa Tupua – two guardians, one from the Crown and one from a Whanganui River iwi, will be given the role of protecting the river.

An agreement between the Crown and local iwi on what the values will be in protecting the river are yet to be decided.

A whole river strategy, in collaboration with iwi, local government and commercial and recreational users is still being decided.

Oh, and we can expect to hear of more concessions.

“The agreement does not signify the end of the settlement, but it is a significant step towards settlement. Matters of detail and additional redress will be to be negotiated between the parties,” said Mr Finlayson.

Finlayson has described the signing as an historic event.

“Whanganui River iwi have sought to protect the river and have their interests acknowledged by the Crown through the legal system since 1873. They pursued this objective in one of New Zealand’s longest running court cases.

“Today’s agreement which recognises the status of the river as Te Awa Tupua (an integrated, living whole) and the inextricable relationship of iwi with the river is a major step towards the resolution of the historical grievances of Whanganui iwi and is important nationally.

And so it is a historic event.

More impressive than raising of Lazarus from the dead.

2 Responses to It looks just like a long ribbon of flowing water – but don’t offend it, or it might sue you

  1. D C K says:

    Am I to take it you’re anti such developments Alf?

    • Alf Grumble says:

      Alf admits to having peed into the Mighty Makakahi River on occasion. The prospect of the river taking civil proceedings to seek damages is bothersome.

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