Te Awa Tupua - Whanganui River Settlement

Ruruku Whakatupua – Whanganui River Deed of Settlement

The signing and celebration of Ruruku Whakatupua, the Whanganui River Deed of Settlement, took place at Ranana on the Whanganui River Road on 5 August 2014.

At least 500 people met at Ruaka Marae for the historic occasion. Amongst the guests were local and visiting iwi, Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Minister Hon. Chris Finlayson, Minister for Whanau Ora and Member of Parliament for Te Tai Hauāuru Tariana Turia, Minister for Courts and Member of Parliament for Whanganui Chester Borrows, Mayor Annette Main and Whanganui District Councillors.

The settlement focused on the health and well-being of the Whanganui River, which would become its own legal entity under the settlement.

Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claims Settlement) Bill 

In 2017 legislation giving effect to the Deed of Settlement was introduced as Parliament passed an historic bill to recognise the special relationship between the Whanganui River and Whanganui iwi. It also provided for the river’s long-term protection and restoration by making it a person in the eyes of the law.

Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claims Settlement) Bill was widely reported in New Zealand and overseas for one particularly innovative effect: it confers a legal personality on the Whanganui River. A legal person is an entity that has the same rights and responsibilities as a person. In New Zealand law, a number of entities have legal personhood including companies, trusts, and societies.

The move reflected Whanganui iwi’s unique ancestral relationship with the river. Iwi who lived along the river not only relied on it as an essential food source, but held with it a deep spiritual connection.

From the 1880s to 1920s, the Crown – with little or no iwi consultation – conducted works to establish a steamer service on the river and extract minerals from its bed, eroding its ecological quality, destroying eel weirs and fisheries, and degrading the river’s cultural and spiritual value Whanganui iwi first petitioned Parliament in the 1870s, continuing for decades to seek compensation and justice through several courts and the Waitangi Tribunal.The bill provided a settlement of $80 million to redress these “actions and omissions” of the Crown and recognised Te Awa Tupua as an indivisible and living whole, comprising the Whanganui River from the mountains to the sea, and all its physical and metaphysical elements.

An additional $1 million contribution established a legal framework to support the Whanganui River. And a $30 million contestable fund was also created to advance the river’s health and restoration.

Iwi and public submissions on the Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claims Settlement) Bill were heard by the Māori Affairs Committee.

Whanganui iwi were present in the debating chamber gallery for the bill’s third reading on 14 March, 2017. It received Royal Assent on 20 March, officially passing it into New Zealand law.