But at the time, Albert knew nothing about Stone — “I had no idea who he was.” He just wanted the river to get the legal recognition that his ancestors had fought for for decades. When the Waitangi Tribunal arrived in Whanganui in the 1990s, people had been fighting for their rights for more than 100 years. Years of development had worsened their flow: the fish were exhausted – some species had completely disappeared – and the river was no longer the main source of food. Sewage discharges and runoff from riverside farms polluted the water, and local MARori continued to live in poverty. According to Maori belief, all Mauri things have a life force and a personality. As the water quality of the river deteriorated, the Mauri of the river were not respected, which affected the Mauri of the inhabitants, who relied on the river to preserve them. Operations manager Rebecca Larkin says Genesis is trying to mitigate the environmental impact by avoiding water abstraction in certain areas and implementing week-long “zero water periods” each year when the river is low and warmer. She notes that the company is one of the groups working with Albert to manage the river. Daniel`s monitoring found more sediment even in the upper reaches of the river than in nearby streams. Forestry, four-wheeled trails and other human influences are factors, but there is something else. “In Bangladesh, the river is considered our mother,” says Mohammad Abdul Matin, secretary-general of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon, a Dhaka-based environmental group.
Because Bangladesh is located where three major rivers converge and flow into the Bay of Bengal, nearly 100 percent of his country is a delta country, he told NPR. Because the law appoints two guardians to act on behalf of the river — one from the New Zealand government, the other from the Whanganui Iwi or Maori group — it is unique in that it legally binds the river to the tribe, Finlayson says. Planting trees can reduce soil erosion in the river by 90 percent, Cooper says, though it leaves the land vulnerable for several years between felling a stand of trees and the arrival of new seedlings. Albert was not disturbed by the sewage in which they fished and played. But the degraded river was emblematic of a larger problem: a struggle that dates back to the 1870s to preserve the river and its relationship with Maori. As early as 1870, Maori began petitioning the colonial government to enforce their rights. Over the following decades, petitions were repeatedly received by the government in the New Zealand capital Wellington. In the 1920s and 1930s, Albert`s grandmother and siblings brought everything they could. The theory of rights over nature was proposed in the 1970s by the American jurist Christopher D. Stone as a strategic strategy for environmental protection. In Ecuador and Bolivia, the relevant legal texts use morally charged language and rich references to indigenous communities that clearly indicate the intended custodians of the natural resources of nations. Daniel initially had mixed feelings that the river had been declared to be alive.
Today, the Whanganui River in New Zealand is a person under national law, and the Indian Ganges has recently been granted human rights. In Ecuador, the constitution enshrines the “right to full respect” for nature. The law was part of a comparison with the Iwi of Whanganui, composed of Māori from a number of tribes who have long regarded the river as a life force. This new legal approach set a precedent that was followed by several other countries, including Bangladesh, which granted all its rivers the same rights as humans in 2019. But as the Europeans – or Pakeha, as they are called in New Zealand – took control of the region, they increasingly destroyed what the river had been. They operated a steamboat, took gravel from the river, left trout in rivers for fishing, and destroyed old fish dams where Maori had fished for generations. Maori settlements were pushed back by the river to make way for new developments. After 140 years of negotiations, the Maori tribe is increasingly recognized for the Whanganui River, meaning they must be treated as a living creature.
The 290-kilometre (180-mile) waterway was at the heart of their lives. Here they fished and lived. Water was used to treat the sick. They regarded the river as ancestors – it was “their food source, their only highway, their spiritual mentor – according to a 1999 report on Maori rights to the Whanganui River. Marshall says that in addition to erosion, there have been past problems with people throwing stolen cars and trash into the river. Now, with a greater focus on the health of the river, landowners and tribes are replanting the hills to reduce erosion and restore the natural habitat their own families once cleared. The local Māori Whanganui tribe in the North Island has been fighting for 140 years for their river – New Zealand`s third largest – to be recognised as an ancestor. On his chin, Marshall wears a traditional Maori tattoo, a moko kauae.
She considers it an integral part of her spiritual being and her connection with the river. Although his nephew got tattooed only a few months ago, on Marshall`s 61. She feels like it`s been a part of her for much longer. But standing to prosecute is in fact largely granted, and neither of the two court cases decided so far in Ecuador in favor of nature have been brought by an indigenous group. The constitutionality of the order was immediately challenged by a firm in a federal lawsuit. The farm argued that the order makes it “vulnerable to massive liability” when fertilizing its fields “because it can never guarantee that any runoff will be prevented from entering the Lake Erie watershed.” Then, the state of Ohio joined the lawsuit, arguing that it — not the citizens of Toledo — had “legal responsibility” for environmental regulatory programs. It was a problem from the beginning. For the Maori, the river was a single, indivisible entity and not something that could be owned. Although the river`s resources can be exploited, only those who contribute to the community have the right to benefit. The local Maori even had a saying to sum it up: “I am the river, and the river is me.” Traditionally, nature has been subject to a legal regime of property designed by the West, says Monti Aguirre of the environmental group International Rivers.
In 2017, an extraordinary incident occurred. The Whanganui River was the first waterway in the world to be assigned a legal entity.