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Sharples: Iwi Māori National Summit on Freshwater

Hon Dr Pita R Sharples; Minister of Māori Affairs
Iwi Māori National Summit on Freshwater Management
Westpac Stadium, Wellington;
Thursday 10 December 2009; 9.30am

I want to firstly acknowledge my great respect for the inspiration and initiative of Sir Tumu te Heuheu; Sir Archie Taiaroa; Toby Curtis; Mark Solomon and Tukuroirangi Morgan who first started initiating discussions about freshwater back in May 2007.

Your leadership through the Iwi Leaders Forum has been a key means of encouraging tangata whenua engagement with the concepts underpinning Maori approaches to water.

That forum has then gone on and struck up a dialogue with a core group of Ministers on how to best proceed in the complex process of addressing Māori concerns, interests and rights relating to freshwater.

Concerns, interests and rights which will be pivotal to the debate in this National Iwi Leaders Summit on Freshwater management; and which are at the heart of our wellbeing.

Water at the heart of our wellbeing

Kei te ora te wai, kei te ora te whenua, kei te ora te tangata
The water is healthy, the land and the people are nourished

This is a truth which speaks across the universe, reflecting that the health of life on and within Papatuanuku is directly related to the wellbeing of our waters.

Eight years ago, the Indigenous Declaration on Water signed in British Columbia issued a brave call to action, and I quote:

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As Indigenous Peoples, we raise our voices in solidarity to speak for the protection of Water. The Creator placed us on this earth, each in our own sacred and traditional lands, to care for all of creation. We stand united to follow and implement our knowledge, laws and self-determination to preserve Water, to preserve life.

Eight days ago we saw this call to action given life through the ruling of Chile’s Supreme Court in favour of the indigenous community. The case between the company; Agua Mineral Chusmiza, and the community – namely the Chusmiza and Usmagama Communities has been heralded as producing a landmark ruling on indigenous water rights.

The case was wrapped up in the rights to bottle and sell freshwater from a source used traditionally by the Aymara indigenous residents. At its heart was the centrality of community water rights; the value of water as a vital resource fundamental to every aspect of life.

Just as with Maori, the rivers and streams are the lifeblood of the people, the essence of life. The health of our waterways is intrinsically linked to the sacredness of the water, the mauri, the wairua, the spirit of its lifeforce

And so it is that as with other indigenous peoples we feel an obligation to those who have gone before us and those that will follow, to take due care of the rights, interests and responsibilities we share, collectively in water.

We go to the water for spiritual health; we go to be healed, to say our karakia; to connect directly to our ancestors, our identity and our whakapapa.

The late Niko Tangaroa, spoke of the river as the heartbeat, the pulse of the people And in 1999 the Waitangi Tribunal Whanganui River Report described the river as a taonga of central significance, with the river conceptualised as a whole and indivisible entity, a living being, an ancestor with its own mauri, mana, tapu.

And in the words of my kinsman from Ngati Kahungunu, Moana Jackson, the water can never be separated off from the land, perceived in isolation as a discrete entity. As Moana says:

“Rather we conceptualise it as everything that nurtures, flows through and is interwoven with it. The seabed is merely land surging with water and the foreshore is just the step between where the water may rest and rise”.

The Holistic Indigenous Worldview
This mindset, this worldview, which is essentially the notion that all of our natural resources are inter-related, and intricately woven across our economic, cultural and spiritual aspirations, are part of the unique signature tangata whenua have brought to this debate.

While the Ministry of Environment might look at ‘ecological flows’ or allocation as the issue under scrutiny, Maori bring a holistic vision to revive and revise the new thinking around freshwater.

I am so pleased that representation from the Iwi Leaders Forum travels across the other components of the Freshwater Strategy, specifically the Land and Water Forum and the ten priority areas of the policy work programme.

We should celebrate the breadth of this vision, and as a nation welcome the groundbreaking difference we can make in incorporating indigenous knowledge alongside resource management strategies

We have an opportunity as a nation to set the standard high; to work with matauranga Maori and western science in parallel, investing both with equal importance.

The health of the water in Aotearoa

How we address the real problems around the way water is managed is the critical issue then, facing us all. As you will know, freshwater scientists are warning that the water quality of many rivers and streams is deteriorating, recreational fishers are reporting a decline in freshwater fisheries, and farmers in some regions face uncertainty over whether they will be able to continue to gain access to water to irrigate their crops and pastures.

Urban areas contribute nutrients and bacteria from human wastewater and sewage. Run-off from paved surfaces, gardens and earthworks in urban areas sends high levels of sediments, pesticides, herbicides and household chemicals into urban streams. And as major stakeholders in the dairy industry, we know only too well that there are unacceptable levels of nutrient enriched runoffs into natural water ways. All of it pollutes and degrades the natural quality of our freshwater.

For example, over the 2006-2007 summer, only about 60% of monitored freshwater swimming spots were suitable for swimming most of the time.

This all adds up. The economic, environmental, social and cultural costs associated with water quality decline demand that we do better if not for the current generation, for our future.

Water Allocation
But quality – or lack of quality – is not the only issue we must face.

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

What are we doing to ensure that enough water is left in rivers and streams to maintain the values that we hold dear?

I am told that during the recent consultations in Taranaki, the iwi leaders group was told that none of their water extractions were notifiable - nothing was measured – so the people didn’t exactly know how much is taken.

Of course we recognise the vital contribution water makes to the functioning of a successful economy in the form of irrigation, hydroelectricity generation, tourism and other economic activities. Water allocation and use right is essential, not only for our environment, recreation and culture, but for the economy.

But the question must be posed – what are the impacts on the ecological health of the water resources if too much water is removed from the system? Similarly what are the impacts on the economy?

As significant land holders in agriculture, Maori are all too aware of the importance of having efficient, effective and equitable systems to allocate water. But do we have the balance right?

New Start to Freshwater initiative

The government’s New Start to Freshwater initiative is a critical response to the question. It’s about looking at the broadest range of variables associated with addressing freshwater issues in the context of economic growth, cultural authenticity and environmental integrity.

The New Start is about examining water quality, including managing the impacts of land use intensification; monitoring water allocation and demand; evaluating the capacity of water infrastructure and storage; and developing governance of water that better reflects the Treaty relationship.

The Treaty Relationship and Water
The principles of justice and the ethic of partnership set out in the Treaty provide a compelling case as to why we need to look at Māori rights and interests to freshwater. There is a strong emphasis given to the need for Treaty-based engagement with Māori.

The Cabinet paper which outlines the freshwater strategy states that “meaningful, Treaty-based engagement with Māori” is central to a robust policy process, and that discussion is needed on the roles, rights and interests of Māori in order to make progress on issues such as water allocation.

These are all great steps forward.

The Prime Minister and several other Ministers, including myself as Minister of Māori Affairs, have committed to an ongoing engagement with the Iwi Leaders Group. I am excited by the opportunity that this Crown-Māori engagement presents for freshwater. It allows rangatira-to-rangatira discussion on high-level issues such as Māori rights and interests in freshwater.

I am also committed towards ensuring that the Government continues to respect the leadership of iwi and takes on board your guidance regarding the complex process of addressing Māori concerns, interests and rights relating to freshwater.

I think we should really celebrate this commitment from the Crown to effective engagement with iwi. We all know that providing for a stronger Māori voice in decision-making over water is an excellent way to make progress. Progress will be rapid if the ethic of kaitiakitanga is welcomed to the centre of the debate around freshwater management. And in turn, the contribution that tangata whenua can make towards sustainably managing our water resources will be of benefit to all New Zealanders.

The Treaty of Waitangi forms the underlying foundation of the Crown- Māori relationship with regard to freshwater resources. There exists a shared interest and desire for tenable and long-term solutions in respect of the management of freshwater resources.

The ability of Māori to act as tangata tiaki, to ensure that water is protected and used wisely, is to a large degree dependent on there being a legal framework that provides a meaningful role for Māori in the governance of freshwater. It is critical that arrangements for the governance and management of freshwater recognise the rights, interests and perspectives of Māori.

Local Authorities

But I want to extend the Treaty relationship to also note the key relationships that must be forged not just with the Crown but at the local level between local authorities.

One of the top ten priorities for the Freshwater strategy is about improving water governance with particular regard to the role of iwi. The project aims to develop options for governance models that give better effect to the Treaty partnership with respect to water. As such, a component of this project is defining what principles would represent best-practice freshwater decision-making from an iwi perspective.

The message that is coming consistently from Māori is that, to date, the legal framework for managing water under the Resource Management Act has not adequately provided for Māori interests.

Some iwi, such as Whanganui, have explored the nature of their customary and Treaty rights through the Waitangi Tribunal. Others, such as Waikato-Tainui, turned to direct negotiation with the Crown as a means of achieving a fuller legal expression of their rights and interests to freshwater.

Local hapū and iwi need to be full participants in decisions on water management in their areas, and water ownership issues need to be allowed to come onto the local and national agenda.

For Ngati Kahungunu for instance our rohe extends from the Wharerata range, north of Te Mahia down to Turakirae near Wellington and inland to the ranges. Our lands and waters cross through three regional council boundaries and intersect eleven territorial authorities.

So the challenge is huge, to ensure that local authorities and district council work together with iwi in the management, participation, and planning processes in their own regions.

We must be there at the table, to ensure our rights and interests in water management and any other mechanisms to deal with our natural resources are articulated, and more importantly, are heard.

We need an environment which encourages iwi to participate; and I’m not just talking about with post-settlement tribes, or sticking rigidly to a narrow interpretation of the statute. We want to see a far more open relationship from regional councils and local authorities, to actively working with iwi in water management.

The aspiration of co-management will only come about if iwi have built the capacity to fully participate in these processes. This may require further investment in education to spread understanding.

Not everyone has the awareness and specialist knowledge that can help to shape our management of our natural resources. We need to build capability.

And so again, I thank everyone involved with this summit and the iwi leadership group – the writing team, the representatives spread across all ten projects, those who are participating today.

An initiative like this summit is a good start. It will be good to hear feedback from the regional hui and to be updated about the key priorities in terms of rights and interests, governance, Wai Māori, allocation and water quality.

Water is precious to us all, and should be treated accordingly. It is a vital taonga and none of us can do without it. I encourage us all to continue to speak our truths; to share our whakaaro and to engage in debate about our rights and interests in freshwater resources as part of the vital landscape of our nation.


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