The Whanganui River which runs through the Whanganui National Park in the Manawatu-Wanganui of the North Island of New Zealand Photo Tim Clayton

Story highlights

The water body is country's longest navigable river

Settlement includes $80 million in financial restitution to local Maori people

CNN  — 

In what’s believed to be a first-of-its-kind move, the Whanganui River in New Zealand has been granted the same status as a person.

The river will have its own legal identity “with all the corresponding right, duties and liabilities of a legal person,” the government said.

This is good news for the local Maori people who’ve tried for a century to have their relationship with the water body acknowledged by the government. The indigenous Whanganui Iwi have a saying: “I am the river and the river is me.”

Two people to speak for the river

Under the Whanganui River Claims Settlement Bill, two people will act and speak on behalf of the river. They’ll work to promote and protect its health and well-being. The government and the iwi will pick the two.

“This is actually a really good way of ensuring that the particular resource is able to have representative to address the kind of environmental degradation that so many natural resources suffer from,” said New Zealand Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson. His comments were reported by CNN affiliate Radio New Zealand.

‘Runs through their veins’

The river is New Zealand’s longest navigable river, stretching 180 miles (290 kilometers) from Mount Tongariro to the Tasman Sea. The iwi have pursued claims and sought protection of the river since the 1870s.

One of Maori Party’s co-leaders, Marama Fox, hailed the bill’s passage. She said the settlement, which also includes financial restitution of $80 million, gives people a chance to restore the river to “its life-giving essence.”

Speaking in parliament, Fox said the move is a gift back to the Whanganui River iwi and “their rightful obligations and responsibilities to the river that runs through their veins.”