New Zealand’s Mount Taranaki is set to be granted the same legal rights as a person, making it the third geographic feature in the country to be granted a “legal personality”.
Eight indigenous Māori tribes as well as the government will share guardianship of the sacred mountain on the east coast of the North Island, in a long-awaited acknowledgement of the native people’s relationship to the mountain, who view it as an ancestor and whanau, or family member.
The new status of the mountain means that if someone harms it, it will be the same legally as harming members of the tribe.
In the Record of Understanding signed this week, Mount Taranaki will become “a legal personality, in its own right”, said the minister for treaty negotiations, Andrew Little, gaining similar rights to the Whanganui river, which was granted legal personhood earlier this year.
Mount Taranaki is the country’s most perfectly formed dormant volcano. It is 1,20,000 years old and last erupted in 1775.
Little said the agreement offered the best possible protection for the landmark, which is becoming an increasingly popular tourist attraction.
“As a New Plymouth local I grew up under the gaze of the maunga [mountain] so I’m particularly pleased with the respect accorded to local tangata whenua [local people] and the legal protection and personality given to the mountain,” Little said.
“Today’s agreements are a major milestone in acknowledging the grievances and hurt from the past as the Taranaki iwi experienced some of the worst examples of Crown behaviour in the 19th century.”
The chief negotiator for Taranaki iwi, Jamie Tuuta, told Fairfax the agreement was significant for Māori people nationwide.
“It [Mt Taranaki] provides that sense of place, social association and identity,” he said.
Gerrard Albert, who negotiated legal personhood for the Whanganui river earlier this year after a 140-year fight, said all Māori tribes regarded themselves as part of the universe, at one with and equal to the mountains, the rivers and the seas.
The new laws being introduced honoured and reflected their world view, Albert said, and were setting a precedent for other Māori tribes in New Zealand to follow in Whanganui and Mt Taranaki’s footsteps.
“We can trace our genealogy to the origins of the universe,” said Albert. “And therefore, rather than us being masters of the natural world, we are part of it.”