New Zealand Grants Mountain the Same Legal Rights as a Person

(ANTIMEDIA)  New Zealand just granted a mountain the same legal rights as a person, the Guardian reports. Located in New Zealand’s North Island, Mount Taranaki will be the third geographic landmark in the country to be deemed a “legal personality.”

Guardianship of the sacred mountain will be shared between eight local Maori tribes (New Zealand’s indigenous population) and the government. The decision is a long-awaited acknowledgment of the indigenous people’s relationship with the mountain. They view it as an ancestor and family member.

Mount Taranaki is 120,000 years old and is also a dormant volcano that last erupted in 1775. Under the new designation, if a person or entity brings harm to the mountain, the legal rights protecting the mountain will be the same afforded to an ordinary individual. The move also entails that the land “owns itself” and cannot be owned by another human.

From the New Zealand Herald:

“All Crown-owned land within the National Park will be vested in a legal personality, meaning the land will own itself – a special legal status that has previously been granted to Te Urewera and the Whanganui River.

“The concept was considered groundbreaking and was used to neutralise the controversial issue of ownership. Instead of human ownership over the environment, it embraces the Maori relationship with the land and recognises its cultural and spiritual significance.”

The acknowledgment was made through a record of understanding, which was signed last week. The record of understanding also noted that the mountain is an ever-present and personified ancestor that “transcend[s] our perception of time, location, culture and spirit.

“Their presence pervades our scenery, projecting mystery, adventure and beauty, capturing our attention and our imagination in how humanity can be closely bound to a landscape,” it stated.

According to Andrew Little, New Zealand’s minister for treaty negotiations (in this case, the Treaty of Waitangi), Mount Taranaki will now become a “legal personality in its own right,” offering the “best possible protection” for the 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.”

One of the more successful aspects of the development is that as part of the agreement, the New Zealand government is required to apologize to local Maori for the previous breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi it has made against the mountain. However, local tribes will not receive any monetary redress as compensation.

The recent move follows a Waitangi Tribunal report from 1996 that said there was no valid basis for the government’s confiscation of the Mountain from the Maori in the first place.

“It [Mt Taranaki] provides that sense of place, social association and identity,” Taranaki Iwi’s (Tribe) Chief Negotiator, Jamie Tuuta, told Fairfax media.

Earlier this year, New Zealand granted the 90-mile Whanganui River the same legal rights as a person in a similar move. India followed suit not long after. New Zealand also granted similar rights to a national park known as Te Urewera.

“We can trace our genealogy to the origins of the universe, and therefore, rather than us being masters of the natural world, we are part of it,” stated Gerrard Albert, who negotiated legal personhood for the Whanganui river.

Missing from the discussion on this issue is that the New Zealand government will retain guardianship of the mountain — the same New Zealand government that is working to cement the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) with full knowledge that many Maori claimants view the agreement as detrimental to their native rights.

Despite its positive implications, also missing from this topic is the notion of where such a move will lead the human race in the years to come, particularly in relation to artificial intelligence (AI). Saudi Arabia recently granted citizenship status to a robot, and it is not too farfetched to assume that in the very near future we will be seeing legal protection afforded to more than just our sacred mountains and rivers.

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