Thursday, March 23, 2017

New Zealand Declares a River a Person

The Whanganui River
The new law that designates the Whanganui River, New Zealand’s third-longest, a legal person, in the sense that it can own property, incur debts and petition the courts.

The Economist explains:
The law, which was approved on March 15th, stems from disputes over the Treaty of Waitangi, by which New Zealand’s indigenous Maori ceded sovereignty to British colonialists in 1840. The treaty was supposed to have protected Maori rights and property; it was observed mainly in the breach. In recent years the government has tried to negotiate settlements for breaches of the treaty with different Maori iwi, or tribes. For the Whanganui iwi, the idea of the river as person is nothing new. The iwi professes a deep spiritual connection to the Whanganui: as a local proverb has it, “I am the river and the river is me.” The law acknowledges the river as a “living whole”, rather than trying to carve it up, putting to rest an ownership dispute that has dragged on for 140 years. When it was passed members of the iwi in the gallery of parliament broke into a ten-minute song of celebration.
 In practice, two guardians will act for the river, one appointed by the government and one by the iwi.

Days after the law passed, an Indian court declared two of the biggest and most sacred rivers in India, the Ganges and Yamuna, to be people too. Making explicit reference to the Whanganui settlement, the court assigned legal “parents” to protect and conserve their waters.

Obviously, this doesn't mesh with my view of a Private Property Society, where human beings are the only recognized persons and persons can own things such as rivers and dogs.

In a PPS, you can respect or worship a river or a dog and call it friend or a god if you like but it is not a person.

To paraphrase Murray Rothbard, if the Whanganui River wants to be recognized as a person and own property, well then it should make its own pleadings in court.



  1. Well, it's their country. On the other hand, if General Motors CORPORATION can be a person, then maybe the river thing is not so crazy?

  2. Allowing property person-hood will wreck the civil asset forfeiture racket.

  3. Its not about that. its just theater between the NZ Govt and the native people, the Moari of the wanganui area. the govt doesnt want to hand it back or pay compensation for seizing it because that would be electoral suicide and establish a precedent for all other Maori claims all round the country.
    But the Maori have to cloak their claims in spiritualism and deep connection to land because of the ancestors.
    so this kind of nonsense happens

  4. They can frame it how they want, but since the river can't act or think or exercise any rights, the reality is that the two guardians own the river or, rather, those individuals who get to appoint the guardians own the river.

    Of course, if the river is a person, but the guardians control it without its consent, then I guess this constitutes slavery?

    1. Thank you, NAPster, my sentiments precisely.

      Guardians to Whanganui: "You've too much freedom. We're gonna dam you up."

      Whanganui to Guardians: "Damned if you are. God will help me wreck your damned dam. He did it once before and He'll do it again. Let the heavens pour forth!"

  5. If the river overflows its banks, is it guilty of trespassing? If so, can it be sued and be made to pay damages?