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Tariana Turia: mana wahine

Kaitiakitanga: Ongatoro (Maketu estuary) and mana wahine

Indigenous knowledge, cultural heritage and waterways

Tariana Turia, Co-leader of the Maori Party

Friday 15 February 2008; 5.30pm

After one week back in the Te Ana o te raiona - the den of the lions – I have been greatly looking forward to coming here to Maketu, to share with you some ideas around mana wahine and the estuary.

Although I must confess, I have been thinking more in terms of wahine Maori as a sanctuary; a site of safety, a haven.

I want to offer you firstly the expression of mana wahine composed by King Tawhiao in honour of his tuawahine tupuna.

He tau pai te tau, He tau ora te tau

He tau ngehe te tau, he tau no te wahine

Rapua te purapura, e ora ai te iwi.

The year is good, the year is peaceful

A year full of promise, it is the year of women

A time for peace and growth

Seek therefore the seeds which will bring forth

The greatest good for all people.

We are here today, united in our commitment to the greatest good for all people.

We are here to honour our connection to Papatuanuku.

We thrive off her, we acknowledge her and the rivers and landforms that surround us.

This wananga is particularly focused on Te Awa o Ngatoroirangi, of the Te Arawa waka.

The estuary, Ongatoro, is the final landing place of Te Arawa; and Maketu is in the tribal rohe which marks Te Arawa rohe, Mai Maketu ki Tongariro.

In so many ways, therefore, the river, the Kaituna; the estuary, Ongatoro; this place is intimately connected with your identity, as tangata whenua, people of the land.

I greet you, as one river to another.

E rere kau mai te Awa nui nei
Mai te Kāhui Maunga ki Tangaroa
Ko au te Awa
Ko te Awa ko au.

We are all committed to doing what we can to safeguard our future, to sustain a healthy and resilient river, to invest in a vibrant estuary eco-system.

This is an aspiration that the Maori Party lives by – the ongoing advancement and protection of tangata whenua, of Papatuanuku and Ranginui, of our world.

From what I have learnt from Raewyn, your river has been diverted from Ongatoro, the estuary, to allow the surrounding farmlands to be drained and made more “productive”.

The push to support kiwifruit farming has provided a justification for the diversion. In turn this has been rationalised as safeguarding an economic future.

At another part of the river the excess waste from the abattoir is reported as meeting an “acceptable level” of discharge.

I am told, also, that the flow rate is “acceptable” – but that it is also seasonable. So when it dries up, and all the food sources with it, I am assured that such a crisis is supposedly balanced out by the fact that when the water comes in, it flows and flows.

Further along, close to Te Puke, there are two major feeder streams coming into the river, feeders which come out of the influence of major agricultural and dairy farms.

Those feeders are ridden with phosphorous and nitrogen which build up a high concentration of algae.

I think of our wisdom passed down from those before us:

Ko the whenua te wai-ü mo nga uri whakatipu

The land provides the sustenance for the coming generations

The sustenance of the generations that will feed from Te Awa o Ngatoroirangi is seriously threatened by the actions that are impacting so negatively on the estuary.

“Acceptable” is therefore highly subjective – acceptable to mana whenua? To the ahi kaa? To farmers and local government officials? Who determines, who decides?

And so this special area – this area which has been a common food place for all of Te Arawa – is fast deteriorating and silting up.

Traditional food sources are being annihilated – kaimoana, cockles, pipi, flounder; kökopara (cockabully); all struggling to survive.

But it is more than a matter of kaimoana. It is about our sacred and spiritual relationship with our awa.

The kaituna is the umbilical cord that connects the lakes to the ocean, it binds the child to the parent.

The mauri of the Kaituna River has been compromised and confronted with the paru of pollution.

It has created a situation of imbalance, where the environment is up for negotiation; where Papatuanuku herself is at risk.

I have always loved the poetry of Hone Tuwhare, particularly Papa-tu-a-Nuku,

We are stroking, caressing the spine of the land.

We are massaging the ricked back of the land.

With our sore but ever-loving feet: hell she loves it!

Squirming the land wriggles in delight.

We love her.

That poem refers to the Awakening – the Maori land march that began at Te Hapua in 1975.

I am sure that you can all visualise that legendary photograph of Dame Whina Cooper heading the hikoi, hand in hand with her mokopuna, Irenee.

It is that image that I connect to, when I think about the sanctuary that is being represented in this workshop.

This workshop is an opportunity to lie in the luxury of our mothers’ arms. An opportunity to learn from your kuia and pakeke wahine about the cultural heritage that belongs to you.

It is a chance to acknowledge and respect, the role women play in protecting and managing water.

The Indigenous Peoples Kyoto Accord states their support to:

“honour and respect water as a sacred being that sustains all live. Our traditional knowledge, laws and forms of life teach us to be responsible and caring for this sacred gift that connects all life”.

And why is it that women take up this role?

I did wonder if it was because it was a cultural custom in Te Arawa that your men might not want to take off their shoes to wade in the river and muddy their feet!

Why is it women? Because our traditional knowledge, our ways of being have always been cherished by women.

I had to admit to a bit a giggle last week, when the research was revealed about the special skills that Maori women have in passing on knowledge to our young.

Because this has always been the way it is – that our women are intricately linked to whenua, and in this way, linked to eternity. The stories and knowledge that will be passed on to the next generations, that will ensure our survival, have been with us mai ra ano.

Just as the land nourishes the people, the placenta nourishes the woman and the next generations. The concept of whenua is inter-changeable, it is one and the same. We are of the land, our children are born of the whenua, and in the process of birth, the pito and whenua are returned back to the land.

It is a relationship which is personal, spiritual, symbolic, sacred and ongoing. Within this, wai Maori is the life-giving source of the kawai tipuna and the descendants.

That is why this wananga is so important.

It is about our survival.

The survival of our customs, our knowledge, our special protected relationships.

The survival of our people. The Maori Party believes there is no greater goal.

I want to make a special acknowledgment to Raewyn Bennett for your foresight, your insight, and your passion in taking up the challenge of kaitiakitanga.

You have demanded that the Kaituna River and the estuary it flows into at Maketu are on everyone’s agenda. You have been an active force in driving forward the integrated management for the Kaituna River and Maketu Estuary.

You have been the first Maori woman on Environment Bay of Plenty, you have challenged that organisation and the Council, and now you are taking on the task of ensuring this knowledge carries on.

It is a very inspiring thing to see someone who is so committed to caring for our waterways, for looking after our future, for preserving and protecting our traditional knowledges.

I count myself forever blessed to have been brought up by my grandmother, my aunts, by women who watched over me.

Even now, as old as I am, my aunts are still doing that. I think particularly of aunty Julie who knows, intuitively, when it is time to come and take me to the awa, to restore and cleanse me, to remind me of our sacred connections.

Just as Dame Whina caressed the spine of the land with her mokopuna firmly by her side, Raewyn is taking on the special responsibility of bringing together your wise women who care for Ongatoro and who care for the mokopuna to come.

We are in the company of some wonderful leaders who truly seek the seeds which will bring forth the greatest good for all people.

I wish you all a wonderful wananga which will stimulate greatness for the care of the estuary, and much peace and promise for the year ahead.


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