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Commission’s Visit To Cyclone-affected Areas Highlights Human Rights Challenges

Communities in Te Tairāwhiti and Wairoa have told Te Kāhui Tika Tangata Human Rights Commission they want government and councils to support community-led responses in the recovery from Cyclone Gabrielle.

Te Amokapua Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt says “We heard loud and clear that communities know the solutions, they have the knowledge, insights, relationships, and experience that should be determining what development and recovery looks like.”

The comments come following a visit by the Chief Commissioner, Rongomau Taketake Claire Charters and Commission staff to Wairoa, Gisborne, Uawa/Tolaga Bay and Te Araroa last week.

The Commission heard that despite the aspirations of communities, many felt a sense of powerlessness and spoke of being wedged between the impacts of forestry and farming on the land and the waterways around them, the threat of more frequent and intense weather events due to climate change, and the centralisation of resources and power away from them which was aggravated by colonisation.

Hunt says “There’s a different vision that needs to be embraced here, one where local communities are in the driving seat, supported by councils and government.

There is a concern that this isn’t happening and things are too centrally driven.”

Hunt says that while the Commission was able to meet with some community leaders during their visit, there are many others whose views need to inform the ongoing recovery.

Rongomau Taketake Claire Charters, who is an Indigenous Rights Governance Partner at the Commission says local leadership is crucial in the recovery, and to realise the tino rangatiratanga of iwi, hapū, and whānau Māori in the region.

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“We heard from tangata whenua along the trip of their struggle to retain Ahi Kaa (continuous occupation) because of these challenges. These are communities who have lived on their whenua for 25 generations.

The government and councils have a duty to demonstrate how they are meeting the provisions for tino rangatiratanga and self-determination as outlined in both te Tiriti o Waitangi and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

That means a shift in approach from government control to a more equal balancing of power, where communities can practice self-determination, participate in decision-making processes that affect their rights and well-being and have their free, prior and informed consent sought on legislative or administrative measures that affect them.

Such an approach should influence any new legislation and policy that deals with emergency management, responses to Cyclones Gabrielle and Hale, and for local development more broadly.”

The Commission says it will continue to kōrero with the local communities it met with last week to help advance their rights and te Tiriti o Waitangi.

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