Tuesday 11 September 2012

The first river to have legal rights

The Whanganui River, Aotearoa / New Zealand
Wallace Heim writes:

For the first time, a river has been given a legal voice. The Whanganui River in New Zealand has become a legal entity, and will be recognised as a person in law in the same way that a company is, giving it rights and interests.

The status of the river as Te Awa Tupua (an integrated, living whole) is a step in the resolution of historical grievances and court cases between the Whanganui iwi, the Maori peoples and nations living along the river, and the Crown. Two guardians, one from the Whanganui River iwi, and one from the Crown will be given the role of protecting the river.

In the UK, ‘rights’ generally means the right to access for humans to rivers, or the right to flood protection.

But many artists are negotiating the relations between human use and the free-running of rivers, navigating the values and affections towards rivers. Just now, among these are Multi-Story Water on the River Aire in Shipley and the River Frome in Bristol, and River Runs on the Thames near Oxford. Jem Southam is exhibiting photographs of the River Exe, investigating what makes or defines a river. Earlier this year, Flow turned the Tyne into music in Newcastle. And two decades ago, Still Waters uncovered the buried rivers of London.

photo: Phil Robinson

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