Ko au te awa, ko te awa ko au: Legal Personhood and our Rivers

Aug 27 2022

Join Terese McLeod, Professor Catherine Iorns Magallanes, Gerrard Albert, Dr Mike Joy and facilitator Kaye Maree Dunn to discuss ‘legal personhood’ as a philosophical approach and practical strategy being implemented by multiple indigenous communities to protect threatened waterways.

Five years ago the Whanganui Awa made headlines as the first waterway in the world to be declared a legal person. A week later, India recognised the Ganges and Yamuna rivers as having the same legal rights as people. Citizens of Toledo, Ohio, followed suit in 2019, securing legal rights for Lake Erie, and months later Bangladesh granted all its rivers this same status, followed by the Yurok Tribe in California granting personhood to the Klamath River.

But what lies downstream of these landmark decisions? What does personhood mean for an awa and an iwi? Does legal personhood offer a strategy for shifting the colonial systems of conservation toward rights of care rather than rights of ownership?

Hear about Gerrard Albert’s experiences as lead negotiator between Te Ati Haunui a Paparangi and The Crown, culminating in legal personhood for the Whanganui.

Continuing this work are Terese McLeod, Lead Ranger of Bicultural Engagement at Zealandia Te Māra a Tāne and indigenous rights and environmental law specialist, Professor Catherine Iorns Magallanes. They will share their aspirations to realise personhood for Kaiwharawhara Stream, Wellington, and the unique challenges presented both by its urban location and their endeavour to achieve this outside of a Treaty Settlement process.

They will be joined by outspoken freshwater scientist Dr Mike Joy speaking about the most significant contributors to the national decline in freshwater quality, and his vision for sustainable management and protection of New Zealand's freshwater ecosystems.

This discussion is presented in connection with My River Goes With Me: Johnson Witehira & Julie Nagam, on at The Dowse until 18 Sep 2022.