Here in Hawke’s Bay, the Regional Council is about to reach a milestone – its twentieth anniversary. The history of Maori settlement in the East Coast, however, is centuries old. So by comparison the Council’s existence and its role, through the eyes of tangata whenua in Hawke’s Bay is a mere blink.

The past twenty years represents a very positive shift in the place of Maori within New Zealand society. The treaty settlement process initiated by the National Government in the early 1990’s is gathering pace as is the re-emergence of te reo. Many New Zealanders now speak te reo while more of us are getting an education on the correct pronunciation of Maori place names, examples being rivers such as the Ngaruroro and Mohaka.

During its twenty year life, the Regional Council has consistently sought to engage meaningfully with iwi through a Maori Advisory committee.  This Committee is constructed through representation of the four Hawke’s Bay taiwhenua, Wairoa, Ahuriri, Heretaunga and Tamatea, each elect three representatives each to this Committee. The Committee has typically taken a particularly active interest in the natural resource management issues on the Council’s agenda.

I can see three key drivers of change with respect to the role and influence of tangata whenua.

The most immediate of these is Treaty of Waitangi settlements. The current Government has a goal of settling all claims by 2014. While this is ambitious, there is absolutely no doubt as to the significance of this item on the Government’s work agenda. The second major driver is what I perceive to be a “renaissance” of Maori culture. This is creating a more confident and assertive Maori community within our wider community. That process can only gather pace as well-educated Maori play a greater role in our institutions in the business sector and our primary sector. Finally demographics are increasingly important. As has been outlined in the Council’s 10 year plan, approximately 25% of our population are Maori and this proportion is growing fast.

Over the past eighteen months various Regional Council documents have referenced the increasing importance of Maori relationships and the potential impact on both the form and function of regional councils throughout New Zealand. All driven by the trends outlined above.

In the Council’s Ten Year plan, a financial allocation of $150,000 per annum has been made with the purpose of obtaining greater Maori expertise in resource management planning and decision making processes. Discussions are well advanced with the Heretaunga Taiwhenua over a proposition to establish a resource management unit which focuses more explicitly on Maori aspirations.

Judge Joe Williams, latterly of the Maori Land Court and the Treaty of Waitangi Tribunal, and now of the High Court spoke recently at a Regional Council-sponsored breakfast session on the future role of Maori within our broader society. One statement of Justice Williams I found particularly compelling and challenging was his view that all New Zealanders needed Maori to become proponents as opposed to opponents. This view was expressed with reference to a need for much participation of Maori in our institutions, politics, business and society as a whole.

Treaty of Waitangi settlements are in the process of transforming our social, political and economic landscape. Early settlements focused on “economic redress” — i.e., compensation for land confiscation in particular. In the past 18 months, the focus in emergent settlements has broadened to include “cultural redress “ as well as “economic redress.” 

By and large, cultural redress focuses on natural resource management issues, such as river management, and there are two active settlements currently being negotiated. The highest profile case is the Waikato Tainui settlement where “co-management or co-governance” rights for Tainui are being negotiated between the Crown, Tainui and Environment Waikato with respect to the Waikato river. The second example involves the Crown, Ngati Pahauwera and the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council with respect to the lower reaches of the Mohaka river.

Without getting into complex definitions of co-management or co-governance, in simple terms the Crown and the Iwi claimants are seeking a way to ensure iwi have a much greater say on Natural Resource Management issues within their rohe. From the Regional Council perspective, work is being undertaken to assess options for meeting these aspirations effectively and efficiently without creating either additional institutional arrangements, such as individual river boards, or additional un-productive bureaucracy. Whatever the final arrangement may be for Ngati Pahauwera and the other five major claimant groups within Hawke’s Bay, that arrangement will be cemented into statute through settlement legislation.

What might Treaty Settlements mean for the broader Hawke’s Bay community?

Iwi will be very significant participants in the Regional economy, and with respect to natural resource management, especially water, iwi will likely have a greater and more direct involvement in plan development, and the planning processes region-wide.

Iwi as proponents rather than opponents?  Iwi will bring a strong inter-generational perspective to the debate which may have two very positive outcomes for our region. Firstly, there may be a strong focus on investment within Hawke’s Bay. And secondly, their long-term focus on sustaining the natural resources on which our primary sectors depend should align very well with the ethos the Regional Council must bring to these issues.

If the Crown continues at its current pace, the Ngati Pahauwera settlement could be legislated early in 2010, setting the pattern for Hawke’s Bay and possibly other parts of New Zealand.

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