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While science has a place in providing indicators that contribute to the picture of the health and wellbeing of the Whanganui River, science alone is unable to provide the full picture in relation to the metaphysical attributes that contribute to Te Awa Tupua.
From an Iwi perspective the clarity of the water, the purity of the water, the vibrancy of the water is crucial in terms of being able to maintain traditional practices and maintain a state of spiritual well being.
"If we have a burden, if we have an affliction our natural reaction to that is to take it to the river. It’s vitally important that the river’s healthy if it’s going to help us to heal” Turama Hawira - Te Pou Tupua.
The essence of the health and wellbeing of the River is determined by the narrative of Whanganui Iwi and their interactions with the River at place over significant time periods and the impacts they have observed and experienced.
The Whanganui River has not been declared to be a human being nor does it gain the same rights. It has been declared to be a legal person like a company, a corporation, and it gains the same rights they have and for the same reasons so as to ensure access to the law.
Granting these rights assists in enabling greater protection for the health and wellbeing of the River.
Te Awa Tupua is a legal person and has all the rights, powers, duties, and liabilities of a legal person.
Whanganui Iwi have maintained consistently their rights and responsibilities in relation to the Whanganui River in accordance with their tikanga (practices). Those rights and interests have never been relinquished knowingly or willingly.
For further information head to our Historical Journey Page
The new status of the Whanganui River as Te Awa Tupua not only allows for whole of community responsibility in relation to the health and wellbeing of the Whanganui River, but requires a collaborative approach with Tupua Te Kawa at its core, across the many communities within the Whanganui River catchment.
Everyone has a right to interact with Te Awa Tupua and a subsequent responsibility to consider its health and wellbeing at the forefront of these interactions.
The Te Awa Tupua status calls for everyone; iwi, farmers, residents, the tourism, recreation and environmental sectors and all those performing governance and management, central and local, to come together, recognise and be guided by the four intrinsic values (Tupua te Kawa) that represent the essence of Te Awa Tupua.
This provides the opportunity for streamlined planning and decision-making processes and a common platform for lobbying central government.
The Whanganui River Settlement signals not only a change in attitude but an entirely new construct, Te Awa Tupua and the status of legal personhood, as such it has attracted international attention.
There is a large amount of interest from both an environmental and legal standpoint into what has been created through the Te Awa Tupua status.
Numerous links have been made to the 'Rights of Nature' movement. However the Te Awa Tupua status isn't about nature only, it isn't about rights for people, it isn't about rights to culture - it is about obligations and duties to see and place ourselves within natures scheme and ensure that we work with nature rather than against it.
These arrangements are not about ownership in the commonly accepted sense.
Whanganui iwi do not view their relationship with the river in terms of ownership, rather they contend that the river "owns" the iwi, meaning that the iwi has obligations and responsibilities toward the river and the settlement reflects that.
The focus of Whanganui iwi is on the exercise of duties and responsibilities, with all members of the catchment community playing their part in developing the best approach for the river as a whole, not on the creation or assignment of rights and interests.
No one owned the river prior to the settlement as a complete entity and no one owns it post settlement.
However, there are a range of ownership interests in parts of the river including its bed.
Prior to the settlement the Crown owned a significant part of the riverbed in the main stem of river, which was administered by the Commissioner of Crown Lands. The Department of Conservation also held parts of the riverbed under conservation legislation. These parts of the riverbed that were held by the Crown are now held in the name of Te Awa Tupua and administered by Te Pou Tupua.
Privately owned parts of the bed or other private property interests are not affected.
Statutory recognition of Te Awa Tupua unites the river for the purposes of advocating for the interests of the river and enhancing decision-making processes. It does not give the guardians of Te Awa Tupua decision-making rights over private property.
Through the development of Te Heke Ngāhuru - the Te Awa Tupua strategy, private landowners and other interested people will have a greater opportunity for direct input into the long-term future of the river. Find out more about Te Heke Ngāhuru here