The legislation passed on Wednesday combines Western legal precedent with Maori mysticism has resulted in the river being formally declared a living entity. Attorney-General Chris Finlayson pointed out that the river would now have its own legal identity with all the corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a legal person.
In practical terms, it means the river can be represented at legal proceedings with two lawyers protecting its interests, one from the iwi the other from the government.
Long running dispute
Mr Finlayson also said the local Maori iwi, or tribe, had been fighting to assert their rights over the river since the 1870s, in what had become the country’s longest-running legal dispute. The iwi also received a £45.6 million settlement from the government and an additional £17 million to improve the river’s health.