Thanks to BayBuzz reader Danny Smith, I’ve just caught up with these remarks by Pita Sharples last July to the Indigenous Peoples’ Legal Water Forum. It’s a remarkable speech — hugely relevant to water decision-making here in Hawke’s Bay, given the co-governance arrangements for our region that are about to flow from Treaty settlements.

Here are some especially pertinent passages …

“The message that is coming consistently from Māori is that, to date, the legal framework for managing water has not provided an adequate role for Māori.

I want to refer to a particular issue in water management as an example – water allocation.

There are issues relating to the way that water is allocated, which is to say, how decisions are made as to who can take water from a river, stream, lake or aquifer, and how much water they can take.

In the drier eastern parts of the country, the demand for water during the summer months can outstrip the amount of available water. Rivers in Hawkes Bay, Wairarapa, Marlborough, Tasman, Canterbury and Ōtago tend to be under pressure during the drier parts of the year, when water levels are low and demand for irrigation high.

Earlier this year, for my own people, Ngati Kahungunu, the issue of water shortage and community health problems at Bridge Pa for example, came to a head when chairman, Ngahiwi Tomoana criticised the Hawkes Bay Regional Council’s failure to consult and work constructively with the people of Ngati Poporo who have held Ahi Kaa in the area for more than 400yrs.

The thing is, the legislative framework we are currently following has everything on paper, to promote the ‘sustainable management’ of natural and physical resources including of course, water in close association with tangata whenua. The Resource Management Act, when it was enacted in 1991, was seen as ground breaking in how it incorporated Māori values.”

“Māori are increasingly keen to explore their rights to freshwater. These rights may exist as a consequence of custom and customary use, under the common law doctrine of aboriginal title, or under Article Two of the Treaty of Waitangi …

There remains a lot of uncertainty regarding the nature and extent of Māori rights and interests in freshwater and how these rights might be better reflected in New Zealand law.

What is clear is that the existing arrangements governing freshwater are not satisfactory to most Māori.

Māori want a stronger voice in freshwater management and a role in decision-making as befits a Treaty partner.”

“What I think we need to be doing as a nation, is to initiate a wider conversation about the way in which we agree on the things that matter.  Currently our national planning is based on weighing up economic costs and benefits, all roads leading back to the GDP, which guides all our decisions.

This narrow focus on economics is driving the degradation of natural water sources by pollution, abstraction for irrigation or power generation, and the flooding and droughts made worse by deforestation and climate change.

I want to see us turn around our sense of responsibility for each other, and for our natural world.”

“While the principles of justice and the ethic of partnership set out in the Treaty of Waitangi provide strong reasons why we need to look at Māori rights and interests to freshwater, they are not the only reasons.

The other reason is that we all know that something needs to be done to look after our freshwater resources in a more sustainable and effective way. Water is precious to us all, and none of us can do without it.

I believe that providing for a stronger Māori voice in decision-making over water will ultimately help to address the current problems we face relating to freshwater.  If water is not governed well, this has serious consequences for us all.

Māori can bring a unique contribution to freshwater management through the ethic of kaitiakitanga. The contribution that tangata whenua can make towards sustainably managing our water resources will be of benefit to all New Zealanders.”

I can’t find anything to disagree with in these remarks. I urge you to read the speech in its entirety.

Tom Belford

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1 Comment

  1. As you say Tom it is an enlightened speech that draws from the soul of the instinctive

    attachment of those born of the land to the

    land. It crosses the boundaries of creed and language

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