Maori speak as one on water rights

TRACY WATKINS
Last updated 05:00 14/09/2012
MIKE SCOTT/Fairfax NZ

Leaders of Maoridom arrived at Ngaruawahia's Turangawaewae marae to tackle issues about Maori water rights and interests.

Hui
CHRIS HILLOCK/Fairfax NZ Zoom
As many as 800 people are expected to converge on Ngaruawahia's historic Turangawaewae Marae today to try to thrash out a united Maori front over water.

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A 1000-strong gathering of Maoridom has voted to boycott the Government's fast-track consultation over asset sales and agreed to a united front on Maori water rights.

In the biggest threat to the Government's asset sales programme so far, Maori representing some of the country's biggest and smallest tribes descended on Ngaruawahia's Turangawaewae Marae for the gathering - a show of strength after the Government rejected a Waitangi Tribunal call for a national hui on water.

The hui, convened by Maoridom's King Tuheitia, overwhelmingly backed a resolution calling on the Government to halt the sale of power company shares until it had thrashed out a framework recognising Maori proprietary rights in water.

It also backed a resolution for that framework to be agreed before iwi and hapu enter into negotiations with the Crown over their water claims - and warned they could test the case in court if the Government worked around it.

Finally, it agreed that Maori should speak with one voice on the issue - a new body representing Maori interests across the spectrum will be set up to spearhead the negotiations instead.

That process could take months - and the first test of Maori unity will come as early as today when the powerful iwi chairmen forum meets in Ngaruawahia.

The Government has already set up a process for dealing with Maori rights and interests in water through members of the Iwi Leaders Group and the fresh water forum, which is looking at issues including water allocation rights.

The influence of the group was the focus of a clear undercurrent of unease among smaller tribes.

The king's spokesman, Tukoroirangi Morgan, said the iwi leaders knew what was expected.

“This hui has been very clear in its expectations - everyone stand down until those proprietary rights are clarified and recognised by the Crown. We will deliver that message tomorrow at the iwi leaders hui.”

Heading into the hui, there was building momentum for the Crown to give more urgency to recognise Maori rights and interests in water. But there was a far from unified view on whether those interests should be addressed as part of the asset sales debate.

Ngai Tahu chairman Mark Solomon said Maori all agreed on a collaborative approach toward settling water issues.

"From a Ngai Tahu perspective we don't believe the asset sales will affect the rights and interests of Maori from reaching an agreement."

But yesterday's hui revealed emotions run deep over the water issue.

Hokianga leader Rudy Taylor accused Prime Minister John Key of "driving us apart”. He told the hui that Maori on the Hokianga had never ceded ownership over water, but were paying $300 to fill their water tanks over summer.

King Tuheitia said Maori had always owned the water.

When he was a child, children could swim and bathe in the “crystal clear waters” of the Waikato River.

“Today [it] is a degraded body of water. From Ngaruawahia out to the sea you cannot swim or take kai from it.”

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When his late mother, Dame Te Atairangikaahu died, her people had needed permission from the regional council to float her body by waka to Taupiri Mountain.

The power to manage and control water and allocate water rights should rest with Maori, rather than the regional councils, he said.

Former Maori Party president Whatarangi Winiata said hui were united in wanting Maori property rights over water sorted first before the asset sales went ahead.

"You can't proceed on that unless you know what your property is; and there is a question about who owns what and who is to exercise control over what. The Crown must not presume to exercise control over water.”

The Government earlier this month announced it was delaying the sale of shares in Mighty River Power till next year so it could consult affected iwi in the wake of the Waitangi Tribunal report urging a halt to the sales and a "shares plus" arrangement giving iwi shares and control over any mixed ownership power companies.

- Fairfax Media

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