I was recently reading a piece in The Guardian (available here) which discussed how New Zealand had recently bestowed person status on Mt Taranaki. This is not new to New Zealand, with person status bestowed already on the Te Urewera National Park (2013), granting it “all the rights, powers, duties, and liabilities of a legal person”. Granting legal person-hood, it is argued, not only recognises Maori beliefs about the mountain, but acts to facilitate a set of values and practices by those who visit to treat the area with respect.
This highlights an on-going issue in terms of both travel and conservation. Historically, national parks and conservation areas have not always recognised the rights of local or indigenous people, or their rights have been subsumed by the needs of visitors or tourists. Whilst this still occurs in many parts of the world, thankfully there are plenty of examples where local and indigenous rights are being recognised and turning negative environmental, cultural and economic impacts into positive ones have become the focus of managing tourism.
Mt Taranaki being given person-hood is an example of trying to redress this imbalance. Additionally, in Australia, the climbing of Uluru is being phased out (by October 2019) to reflect the importance of the area to indigenous culture.
As visitors, it is up to us to be aware of our impacts, not only ecological impacts but the impacts of our actions and our visits on local communities and their rights. As informed travellers, we can further contribute to redressing these imbalances. I have also written about this here.