Emirates officials and Whanganui iwi held a ceremony in Dubai today to recognise Te Awa Tipua (river) becoming the first in the world to gain legal status as a person. The dawn ceremony was part of the opening of the Dubai Expo 2020, one of the world’s largest events, with 191 countries taking part.
The expo is being held despite the Covid-19 pandemic and has already been delayed.
The theme of the New Zealand pavilion is to inspire visitors to see how creativity and innovation works while highlighting a paradigm shift in Aotearoa over relationships with nature.
To Gerrard Albert, who chairs the Ngā Tāngata Kaitiaki o Whanganui – the relationship to their river lives in perpetuity. “We don’t become an abstract concept – we become the centre of decisionmaking frameworks,” he says.
It’s a social and political contract view of how Māori view themselves as part of the environment.
Such is also the case with Qasr Al Hosn – an Emirati cultural group that represent a fort, which, historically defended a freshwater well in Abu Dhabi in the 18th century, which was invited to participate by the New Zealand delegation and iwi.
“It was interesting to see the reaction from our Emirati hosts as they went through,” Albert says. “They did resonate with the messages straight away.”
Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claims Settlement) Act 2017 is a law that involves iwi management over the river’s health and wellbeing.
Their iwi proverb lights up the heart of the pavilion which reads, ‘The river is our essence. When it is healed, we are healed.’ Below it sits a rock that was taken from Mt Tongariro, the source of the river.
“We’re moving away from transactions to relational ways of working. That’s what the Awa Tupua, Te Urewera, Taranaki Maunga and other efforts are starting.”