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Te Ururoa Flavell: Address At Fisheries Forum

National Customary Fisheries Forum; Rotorua
Te Kahui Maunga o Tangaroa

Closing address - Friday 27 June 2008

Te Ururoa Flavell, MP for Waiariki

Our research team found me an interesting story in preparing to be with you all today.  Exactly one month ago, the Herald profiled an island lying about 24km off the east coast of Northland.  Archaeologists were amazed because the island, Tawhiti Rahi, has been under a rahui since a pretty savage battle in 1823; it’s inhabited only by tuatara and more than 700,000 birds. 

Tawhiti Rahi contains no evidence that Pakeha settlement has disturbed the kainga tupuna, the island is free of ceramic, glass or metal artefacts but there are plenty of signs that the island has been settled since 1500.

Tawhiti Rahi is a fishing paradise – or it was until it became a marine reserve namely the Poor Knights.  It is located in the midst of an extremely high fish mass, attracted through the East Auckland current; rich with abundant amounts of mutton-bird, and significant fish numbers.

We know that Ngati Wai will have many stories of island life; their heritage in which the people lived on the huge amounts of fish and shellfish. 

Archaeologists are uncovering the physical artefacts –lures, hooks and sinkers no doubt; possibly crayfish pots or traps; but there will also be evidence left behind among the people, from the leadership of their chief Tuaho; or Tatau who also ruled over the southern island of Aorangi.

It got me thinking about the tikanga that would have been followed; the indigenous practices, our practices, that help to generate a link between past and present.

Professor Hirini Moko Mead has given us some clues about how we should approach customary rights in the context of Maori fisheries.  In the Law Commission’s report onMaori customs and values in New Zealand Law he says:

“Tikanga are linked to the past and that is one of the reasons why they are valued so highly by the people.  They do link us to the ancestors, to their knowledge base and to their wisdom. 

What we have today is a rich heritage that requires nurturing, awakening sometimes, adapting to our world and developing further for the next generations”.

These two concepts – the legacy of Tawhiti Rahi – and the analysis of Hirini – seemed to me to create a pretty good picture to think about at this meeting of Te Kahui Maunga o Tangaroa.

Putting aside for one minute the thought of mouth-watering mutton-birds, I’d like to think about Tawhiti Rahi as an opportunity to consider the non-commercial customary interests of iwi, whanau and hapu.

What were the methods and indicators for marine protection put into practice along our coastlines as the place where Ngati Wai came to rest and renourish?

What significance was attached to preserving the site as a kapata kai?

What knowledge does it provide us today, of our rich heritage as food gatherers, cultivators, conservators, makers of nets, preservers of kai?

E hoa ma, as tangata whenua of this land, we have to ensure that the thousand years we have spent fishing in the waters of Aotearoa, are not jeopardised.

And we must ensure that the sustainability measures which we practice as iwi are stringently upheld to ensure there will be fish for the next one thousand years.  And we must not be afraid to deal with our own should they transgress tikanga either because they choose to or plead ignorance.

The message of kaitiakitanga is one and the same as the message of sustainability – and if there are any current actions which seem to eat away at the very basis of these values, it may be that returning to these time-honoured traditions is actually the solution.

As we near the close of the time of Matariki, it is opportune to reflect that -

Kua kai tatou i nga kai o te mara, i tiria e o tatau tipuna.

Me tiri ano hoki tatau, kia whai hua ai etahi oranga mo nga whakatipuranga e heke mai nei.


We have partaken of the food garden, sown by our ancestors.  It is time for us to resow, to ensure sustenance for the generations to come.

As Hirini reminds us, we may need to look after these traditions of sustainability acquired over centuries; we may need to awaken our determination to uphold these practices, in order to ensure future generations are guaranteed access to abundant resources.

We must remember that in our parents’ time, and in our own childhood, customary fisheries felt nothing like the pressure that’s on them today, with twice the population, and a lot more Pakeha who love kaimoana!

We may have to cut our coat according to the cloth – and if the resource is much smaller, we may have to be satisfied with less than we used to take, be more pro-active about guarding what remains, and replenishing what we take.

This, is the essence of kaitiakitanga.

I was interested in some comments that came out of Te Ohu Kaimoana about a month ago.  Chief Executive, Peter Douglas, was congratulating the Ministry of Fisheries in the operation it had managed against paua poachers and illegal divers.

He described paua poaching as“stealing from our nation and from the environmental bank account”. 

The Maori Party is committed to the practise of a Genuine Progress Index - where we account for social, economic and cultural well-being as items on the national ledger – for example, balancing the commercial and non-commercial aspects of the Deed of Settlement within the wider fisheries management framework.

It may be about respecting the ongoing guardianship and conservation roles of our tupuna, in order to strike the balance of sustainable use.

We all recognise that poor application of the fisheries law has led to inadequate fisheries management; to the detriment of the non-commercial customary interest of whanau, hapu and iwi.

But it is not about winners and losers.

It is about being able to discharge our customary rights, exercise those rights and to fully appreciate that our fisheries have a commercial and non-commercial element to them.

It isabout enabling us as tangata whenua, the host community, ki te manaaki i te manuhiri, to embrace our visitors, ki te whakarangatira i a ratou –– knowing that anything less is a reflection on us.

Our mana is invested in our capacity to provide kaimoana for all manuhiri who came within our shores.

Our people have been monitoring and protecting customary take, and indeed our rohe moana over centuries.  We must not let these practices slip away from us.  We must challenge any legislative proposals which could erode these rights in front of our eyes.

Ki te hamama popoia te tangata, e kore e mau te ika

If a person continually yawns, fish will not be caught.

If we give up now, if we get tired of the fight, we will accomplish little.  The price is too high. 

Many of you here have fought long and hard to have iwi commercial and customary fishing rights recognised by the Crown.

Many of you have taken on an awesome challenge, in the way in which you have spotted the fish-hooks in the management of shared fisheries; and stood together, in solidarity, to identify all the impacts on Maori fishing rights.

Our people have established our place in leading a comprehensive management regime across all three fisheries sectors – commercial, customary and amateur.

You must continue to be watchful, in demanding the Government shares information with you, establishes consultation mechanisms which work, and gives full respect to the customary non-commercial voice.

You must continue to speak out at the lack of progress of the 1992 Deed of Settlement in giving effect to a customary non-commercial voice.

And you need to know that it is a fight which we in the Maori Party will fully support.

It is a fight we also understand only too well.

As the strong independent Maori Voice of Parliament, we advocatefor those who may not have a voice.   It is a role which is neither easy nor popular, but it is essential so that the whole story is told.

It is in fact the strength of MMP that we in the Maori Party can provide a mouthpiece for stories that might otherwise remain in the wings, the people that are not always there to put forward their truths.

I want to share one more of our whakatauaki in thinking about exercising our customary right to fish.

He ika kai ake i raro, he rapaki ake i raro

As a fish nibbles from below, so an ascent begins from the bottom

While the actions Te Kahui Maunga o Tangaroa pursues as a forum are vital, we must also continue to be vigilant on the ground, or more to the point at the shorelines, in the lakes, throughout our rohe moana.

We must continue to uphold the practices that treat our fisheries resource as a taonga, and require us all to act in a way which ensures future generations will enjoy access.

It is not necessarily about species, but more about the activity and business of fishing, including the fish which are caught, fishing sites, the right to fish, and the right to fisheries development.

Although of course when it comes to mutton birds, that species thing is pretty important too.

Perhaps at this unique forum you can share with each other the conservation fishing practices of each of our hapu. 

While we might protect our own practises, sharing with each other might be a new and important strategy so that at the end of the day, we are left with knowledge to be shared with our children and mokopuna.

We might move to a checklist if you like, that we as gatherers of kaimoana can check off with the whanau, our children and mokopuna, each time we come back from the beach. 

Did we for example have a karakia before getting in to the water?

Did we turn the rocks back to their original position?

Did we call out loud?

Did we mimi on our bags or kete?

Did we have kete which were new and had never contained cooked food?

Did we offer the first mussel, kina or paua to Tangaroa?

Did we lay the ferns correctly to coax the koura out of their rua?


Do we know who is the kaitiaki - no not the person who signed the permit – I really do mean the kaitiaki?

Why do we do all these things I have just mentioned?

A Ngati Porou mate of mine says he does not know why he does a lot of these things but he does feel much better for having done them.  He reckons it is for psychological comfort!

What sort of check list would each of us here have to ensure that the conservation kaupapa and tikanga of our people are preserved? 

The Mäori right to “fisheries” preserved by the Treaty is worth fighting for; is worth protecting; is worth managing wisely.

The stories of our people and their relationships with the coastal marine are a vital resource to guide us in our ongoing obligation and responsibility for Maori customary fishing rights and management. 

And so finally, one last story.

I am told that there is a net in Te Papa Tongarewa that tells this story.  It comes from Rongomaiwahine on the Mahia Peninsula - from the fishing grounds of one of your previous speakers - the Māori Party candidate for Ikaroa Rawhiti - the one and only Derek Tini Fox.

In the 1930s, the net was used to open the customary tarakihi season. 

At the proper time, the net was taken out on the community’s only motor boat, baited with pipi, and set on the whänau fishing ground.

The whole process was conducted by their tohunga, using the appropriate karakia, which guaranteed a huge catch.  The fish were taken ashore, one was hung on a special tree, and the rest were dried to be given away.  The ritual involved the whole community.  Once that was done, the people could go fishing for themselves.

Over time, things changed.  Whanau members started buying their own boats.  Worse still, commercial fishermen heard about this traditional ground, and started trawling and set-netting there.

The time came when the old net could no longer fulfil its ritual function. The traditional social networks, through which customary controls were exercised, had broken down.  The fish were gone, the people scattered.  The beautiful net had lost its tapu and mana, so the whänau presented it to the National Museum to be displayed as an artefact, a reminder of what once was.

What is the significance of this net to us today?

We often hear the whakatauaki ‘Ka pu te ruha, ka hao te rangatahi’ translated to mean ‘The old net is cast aside and the new net goes fishing’.  People use it to show their approval of progress.

But what really is progress?

In more recent times, we have all been part of a tremendous resurgence of mana Maori, tikanga Maori, reo Maori, era ähuatanga katoa. Our peoples’ influence is now felt in places that were undreamed of in the 1930s – including places where decisions are made on fisheries legislation, policy and management.

What is the point of all that we are doing, if not to restore our whänau, hapü and iwi, to restore and maintain our tikanga, and to uphold our mana as tangata whenua and kaitiaki?

Can we imagine the day when our people, and the nation, are ready for that?  Can we rebuild our world, our environment, our values, to the point where that whänau from Rongomaiwahine is able to go back to Te Papa if they want to, to take their ancestral net out of its display case, and to go fishing once again just as their tupuna did?

Whether it is about sustaining the abundance of kaimoana or whether it is about ensuring our whanau, hapu and iwi are strong, vibrant and healthy, the message is one and the same.   

It is about our capacity to make our mark, to determine our own destinies, to strive for the complete and utter realisation of rangatiratanga.   


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