“As an Iwi, we have waited a very long time to hear again the true voice of the River. For 150 years the physical and spiritual manifestations of the River’s true voice have been muted by legislation and other Crown actions. The arrangements provided for in the Whanganui River settlement seek to confirm that voice as the definitive voice of the River and its Iwi in all matters relating to the River”
— Gerrard Albert, Chair, Nga Tangata Tiaki O Whanganui
(Maori Whanganui River Trust Board)
For 150 years the Maori iwi (people) of the Whanganui River have struggled against the Crown government of New Zealand to regain their relationship to their ancestral river, and uphold their responsibilities to the watershed that gives them life. After a 12-year settlement process, the river has been granted legal “personhood” based on the traditional Maori cosmology know as Ko te awa ko au “I am the River, and the River is me.”
This groundbreaking agreement released the river from the shackles of legal “property” and recognizes the river from the top of the mountains to the sea as a spiritual being with no owner. The agreement is revolutionary in that it recognizes the holistic and spiritual connection between the Maori iwi (people) and the watershed and creates a wholly new governance structure for protecting and honoring it.
“Changing law to recognize sacred systems and traditional ecological knowledge may be one of the most powerful ways to protect Mother Earth globally,” says Movement Rights co-founder Shannon Biggs. Documenting and disseminating the relevance of the Whanganui River settlement, could be a model for other governments in the world to respect sacred sites and Indigenous territories.The grant will support an initial study in November 2016, leading to a much larger Indigenous-led delegation, video and US speaking tour next year.