Mighty Whanganui’s identity status powerful rejection of tired, white-centric ownership-first mindset.

A river gets its own legal identity, and every racist, anti-abortionist, and stock-standard dim-wit feels affronted.

Last week the Whanganui River - my awa - gained such a status, with all the corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a legal person.

Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claims Settlement) Bill, which passed its third reading in Parliament last Wednesday, establishes a new legal framework for the river.

It recognises the river as an indivisible and living whole from the mountains to the sea.


Yes, it's a unique approach but one would think, given the state of our nation's waterways these days, that's what we're all crying out for. A connection with nature that goes way beyond belief in human dominion over it.

Not according to whitewing organisation Hobson's Pledge who said, "If there was ever a moment when you thought New Zealand had drifted into the twilight zone, that moment could be when a Minister of the Crown with a straight face said that the Whanganui River had become a person."

Their press release went on to bemoan the settlement and the "hefty transfer of wealth from the taxpayers" to Whanganui River iwi.

I wonder if the group cares so deeply about the Government's $400m Irrigation Acceleration Fund that benefits private business - dairy farming - all while effectively ruining rivers due to the increased intensification of cows? You know, the one we taxpayers pay for.

Nah, didn't think so. The environment is the least of their concerns.

Their agenda is all about race. Can't have anyone who isn't white getting "special treatment." Unless it's centuries of ill-treatment. That's fine. They can live with that.

The next demented cab off the rank is the anti-abortionists. Somehow the news has also reached conservative middle-America, who are outraged. Oh, and Taranaki.

A local scribe wrote a piece for the region's newspaper that defies sanity. In it, he argues, the rights of unborn foetuses have been somehow trampled on by this decision.


He maintains that the abortion laws should be tightened up, not further liberalised, because the most important thing is humans not rivers.

What a leap into the gloop known as non compos mentis.

Wonder how he feels about corporations having legal personhood? Should they keep their babies? Or have them terminated knowing that greed is all-consuming and has no time for raising ankle-biters.

Those other madmen known as Family First, have since jumped into the fray. They too can't accept that rivers have human status while women are allowed abortions, or something, saying, "that's right folks. An unborn child has less rights than a river. Only in NZ!"

Former Act Party leader Jamie Whyte describes it as "legislative lunacy" - which is what I called his 2014 rise to the leadership of said party.

Now, I don't know about you, but I need a different narrative to describe my awa. I'm pakeha, but our own white-centric narratives are failing. They are stark, money-focused and unromantic. Ultimately, they are boring.

I come from farming stock. The Whanganui River allowed my grandfather, father, brother, and me the palette we all needed to extract from the soil everything those river plains gave.

The farm was a ballot farm anyway. A gift from the King for fighting a foreign war. Earned in blood, sweat and tears. Yet, being close to the banks of the Whanganui River, it was ill-gotten gains no matter how we dress it up on ANZAC Day. Or any other day of the week. That's the truth.

The other truth is, that as the ancestors of colonists, we have stories that reek of the virtue of land clearance and fires. Pioneering stock that worked hard and turned the land productive and fecund.

In the process of this historical rewrite, we've been brainwashed to believe that our stories are the only ones that resonate. That is a bald-faced lie.

My awa is a living, breathing entity that has given so much while asking for so little. It is a life force, like all rivers. More than that, it is always there. It is itself.

Despite the two sides - the Crown and Maori - arguing for years over guardianship of the river, Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson got it.

The issue was resolved by taking the Maori mind-set into account. "In their worldview, 'I am the river and the river is me,'" he said. "Their geographic region is part and parcel of who they are."

Without such openness, the day would not have arrived and the vision would not have been reached.

Rejecting the human default position of authority over the natural resources of the nation is a powerful statement.

We need more of it; not less.

Those described above, who seek to undermine, mock and resent such a revolutionary game-changer, are so far gone as to be dead.