In July 2014, New Zealand granted legal personality to Te Urewera National Park, settling an ongoing argument between the tangata whenua and the Crown. In doing so, it made Te Urewera a freehold land, above ownership. In March 2017, the Whanganui river was given a similar status. And soon, Mount Taranaki will be its own person, legally speaking.
In doing so, Aotearoa New Zealand has shown there is an alternative to the western vision of ownership over the natural world. This redefinition of legal personhood has attracted attention throughout the world, from media, to indigenous leaders and environmental activists - and thus paved the way for new regulations across the globe.\
To better understand how important these decisions have been, Lisa Boudet spoke to Jacinta Ruru, professor of Law at the University of Otago, and co-director of Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga, New Zealand's Māori Centre of Research Excellence.
Professor Ruru’s work particularly focuses on Indigenous people’s right to manage and govern land, and she has abundantly commented on the settlements. Lisa started by asking her to bring us back to the origins of the concept of land as a legal entity.