Dame Tariana Turia the new voice of Whanganui River

Earlier this year the Whanganui River was granted the same rights as a person - now it has its own voice. 

Former minister Dame Tariana Turia and educator Turama Hawira will act as the human face of the river to ensure its rights are protected.

In a world-first in March, as part of a Te Tiriti o Waitangi settlement, the Whanganui River gained its own legal identity, giving it the same rights as a person. 

Dame Tariana called it "probably the most important role in my lifetime", showing just how seriously she's taking the role.

The former Māori Party co-leader and historian Mr Hawira were this weekend appointed to speak on behalf of the river. Their job is to uphold the river's rights and cultural values. This includes recognition it is a source of both physical and spiritual sustenance to local iwi and hapu, and that it is a single entity - and the entire river from Mount Tongariro to the sea must be protected.

Whanganui Mayor Hamish McDouall says "it's got to be exciting".  

"I think for too long we've seen natural resources been used and exploited with no care for the future."

Dame Tariana and Mr Hawira will oversee a $30 million fund, which will go towards environmental initiatives.

Because this is the first time a river has had a voice, its human representatives will spend some time working out their role, but their first task will be to consult with the community.

Local iwi leader Gerrard Albert says granting the river the same rights as a person, as well as the role Dame Tariana and Mr Hawira will play, is a revival of Māori concepts that pre-date colonisation.

"There has been an ongoing relationship that was established before the Westminster system came here and introduced their law, and that belongs to the hapū and iwi."

Dame Tariana and Mr Hawira will carry out the role for three years before passing it on to the next guardians.