Taranaki Maunga and the other peaks in its surrounding national park will soon become a legal person named Te Kāhui Tupua. 

It follows the preliminary signing of a Treaty settlement last week that sets out redress for the confiscation of the maunga 157 years ago.

Re: News spoke to iwi negotiator Liana Poutu to find out what it means to give nature legal personhood like this.

What is this legal personhood?

It's a legal recognition that the Taranaki maunga is an ancestor for us. What that means is that [these natural features] are afforded the same legal rights as us, as individuals. 

It means they can own assets, can appear in court, can give submissions on something. Basically, they are given a voice.

What does this mean for the Taranaki region?

It means that we are better positioned to take care of our maunga - to take care of them and have them more widely recognised as ancestors and so treated in that way. 

I think it's a shift in terms of mindset for the broader community, understanding what we've always known, which is [our maunga] are tupuna, we're descended from them.

I think what might change for the general population going forward is having to come to grips with a different kind of perspective, in terms of what the maunga mean and what we should be doing to protect them, as opposed to seeing them just as an inanimate geographic feature.

There will be a new entity established called Te Tōpuni Kōkōrangi and there will be four members appointed by the Crown and four members appointed by Ngā iwi o Taranaki. They collectively will be the face and voice of the legal person/maunga.

Day to day engagement with the maunga, in terms of access and recreation and tourism, will still be available. 

Liana Poutu / Supplied

Have any other natural features around Aotearoa been granted legal personhood?

There are two other examples in Aotearoa - there's Te Urewera National Park and also Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui river). 

Those are examples of legal personhood being recognised for those two places, [but] all of these arrangements are slightly different. So while they're the same regarding legal personhood, the arrangements to manage how that works are different.

How will we acknowledge Mt Taranaki now?

Taranaki Maunga will be the official geographic name for the peak known as Taranaki.

There's a number of other peaks within the national park that will have their traditional names reinstated, such as Pouākai, Kaitake and Panitahi, but the legal personality will be known as Te Kāhui Tupua.

Te Kāhui Tupua has been used because there's more than one ancestor within the national park. The legal personality will go across all of those [but] they will still be referred to by the individual peak names.

How does this legal personhood reflect Māori world views?

I think it changes how the broader community sees things because for us as Māori, we've always known that [maunga] are tupuna, they are ancestors, that we are descended from them. 

When we stand to do our pepeha, we say “ko Taranaki te maunga”. And then we have a kāwai whakapapa that flows from them to us. 

What this legal personhood does is reinforce what we as Māori have always known. 

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

To get in touch with the author of this article, email teahi@renews.co.nz

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