Te Urewera is a legal entity, and has all the rights, powers, duties, and liabilities of a legal person. [Source]
The conflict between man and nature can easily be seen in how we treat the natural world, and the norm for centuries has been to exact total dominion over the plant and animal kingdoms. The world’s legal systems have long since backed this presumption by granting rights to persons and corporations while asserting that nature has no voice in courtrooms.
This global attitude is ever so slowly beginning to crack, and in recent yearsIndia has set an example by granting legal status and full rights to dolphins, signaling an unprecedented sea change in our relationship to the creatures which have inhabited our home since long before civilization.
In another notable act of equality, the small island country of New Zealand has enacted similar legislation, this time granting full rights and powers to a former national park.
From 1954 to 2014, Te Urewera was an 821-square-mile national park on the North Island, but when the Te Urewera Act took effect, the government gave up formal ownership, and the land became a legal entity with “all the rights, powers, duties and liabilities of a legal person,” as the statute puts it. [Source]
The Te Urewera, a mostly forested region which includes many sparsely populated hills, bays and coastlines, is the home of the Māori people of New Zealand, known for their fiercely tattooed warriors. Efforts by the Māori to preserve this sacred region have finally culminated in a legal statute which confirms the sovereignty of the land.
The unusual designations, something like the legal status that corporations possess, came out of agreements between New Zealand’s government and Maori groups. The two sides have argued for years over guardianship of the country’s natural features. [Source]
The Te Urewera Act establishes a protectorate board responsible for conscious stewardship of the area, and allows for lawsuits to be raised in court on behalf of the land itself.
Te Urewera Act makes clear that Te Urewera ceases to be vested in the Crown, ceases to be Crown land, and ceases to be a national park (s 12). Te Urewera is now freehold land (albeit inalienable except in accordance with Te Urewera Act, see s 13).
Te Urewera is now managed not by the Department of Conservation but by the new Te Urewera Board. This Board is responsible “to act on behalf of, and in the name of, Te Urewera” (s 17(a)).[Source]
By granting such authority to a piece of land, this act is already being seen as legally revolutionary, and the idea may spread to other nations like Canada who are showing interest in the prospect of using the legal system to assert the right nature in defense against human conquest. In New Zealand, the idea of granting sovereignty to a piece of land may next be applied to a river system.
The Māori viewpoint on their natural environment is one shared by indigenous and land-based cultures around the world, and righteously summed up as such:‘I am the river and the river is me.’