The Whanganui River in New Zealand was declared a person in 2017. Here is an article about what that means.
“The great River flows from the mountains to the sea. I am the River, the River is me.”
With these words, the Maori tribes of Whanganui, New Zealand, declare their inseverable connection to their ancestral river. The river rises in the snowfields of a trio of volcanoes in central North Island. The tribes say that a teardrop from the eye of the Sky Father fell at the foot of the tallest of these mountains, lonely Ruapehu, and the river was born.
I knew Ruapehu as the first mountain climbed by Edmund Hillary when he was only 16, when Everest had not yet lodged in his heart and mind as the dream and life’s focus that it would become. I have been fascinated for years with Everest, the Himalayas, and the role of mountains as Earth’s sentinels.
But now the snows of Everest are threatened and the waters of our rivers are polluted beyond recognition.
It is past time to turn to Indigenous peoples for help in untangling the horrible mess that colonization, industrialization, commercial farming, dams, fossil fuel extraction, and so-called “forest management” have wreaked upon this planet.
Edited by Joe Neidhart and Nicole Neidhart, Groundswell is a collection of stirring and heartfelt essays from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous writers. It highlights Indigenous knowledge for teenaged and adult readers and issues a call to action for climate change.
Perhaps the naming of rivers is a place for non-Indigenous people to recognize that a groundswell is what we need, if we want to stave off ecological disaster in our children’s lifetimes, if not our own.