16/03/2017 11:29 GMT

Whanganui River In New Zealand Awarded Human Rights

'I am the River and the River is me.'

Chris Jackson via Getty Images
Prince Harry paddles on the Whanganui River in 2015 on a Waka journey (a traditional Maori Warcraft)

A river in New Zealand has been granted the same legal rights as a human in an effort to enshrine the waterway’s ancestral status of a local Māori tribe.

The country’s parliament granted the legal rights to the river, which lies some 445km south of Auckland, on Wednesday.

The decision was met with tears of joy from hundreds of tribal representatives when their bid was declared successful.

Gerrard Albert, the lead negotiator for the Whanganui tribe said: “The reason we have taken this approach is because we consider the river an ancestor and always have.

Whanganui is in New Zealand's North Island, 445km south of Auckland

“We have fought to find an approximation in law so that all others can understand that from our perspective treating the river as a living entity is the correct way to approach it, as an indivisible whole, instead of the traditional model for the last 100 years of treating it from a perspective of ownership and management.”

The tribe from Whanganui, in the country’s North Island, has fought for 140 years for the river, also known as Te Awa Tupua, to be recognised as their ancestor.

The new status means that if someone were to harm the river in any way, there would be no legal difference between that and harming a member of the tribe. 

The tribe’s belief that “I am the River and the River is me” was included in an announcement of this week’s decision.

Chris Finlayson, the country’s minister for the treaty of Waitangi negotiations, said in a statement: “Te Awa Tupua will have its own legal identity with all the corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a legal person.

“The approach of granting legal personality to a river is unique ... it responds to the view of the iwi of the Whanganui river which has long recognised Te Awa Tupua through its traditions, customs and practise.”