Maori deliver crystal clear message on water
The Government rejected a national hui on water, but it got one, like it or not.
Yesterday's hui at Ngaruawahia's picturesque and historic Turangawaewae Marae was inspired genius by the Maori King, Tuheitia, or more likely, his close lieutenant Tukoroirangi Morgan.
It crested the wave building behind the desire of Maoridom to assert greater control over water - a cause that has lurked in the background for years but been given fresh impetus by the Government's bid to raise billions of dollars by flogging off power company shares.
It also tapped into a current of discontent at the growing influence of the powerful Iwi Leaders Group, representing the big tribes, with which the Government increasingly leans on as the de facto Treaty partner.
That mood was pervasive enough for Ngai Tahu leader Mark Solomon, one of the most powerful leaders in Maoridom, to stand to defend his mandate.
The king's hui brought together the A-listers of Maoridom, but that wasn't the inspired bit.
In Ngati Kahungunu chairman Ngahiwi Tomoana's words, the B-listers, the C-listers and even the Z-listers were invited and their voices heard. So were women, urban Maori, and groups such as the Maori Women's Welfare League.
That is what set it apart from any other forum in recent years.
The size of the hui may have surprised the Government - probably 1000 Maori turned up on the day - but the strength of feeling should not have surprised it.
The overwhelming view that emerged, reinforced by King Tuheitia in his closing speech, was that Maori had never ceded their mana over water.
So too was the desire for Maori to negotiate with the Government on their own terms, through a new national body representing wider Maori interests, not just the biggest and most powerful tribes.
There is a fear among Maori, not only that decisions are being made about water while only a handful of iwi are sitting around the table with the Crown, but also of missing out.
As one man who attended the hui with family members told the crowd: “We're trying to get something that we believe we deserve too.”
And with that genie out of the bottle, the Government may find it hard to put it back in.
LOOKING AT THE LEADERS
WHO IS IN THE IWI LEADERS GROUP?
Most large tribes are represented in some way. The main players include; Mark Solomon (Ngai Tahu), Sir Tumu te Heuheu (Tuwharetoa), Tom Roa (Waikato-Tainui), Naida Glavish (Ngati Whatua), Ngahiwi Tomoana (Ngati Kahungunu), Sonny Tau (Ngapuhi), Haami Pirirpi (Te Rarawa) and Apirana Mahuika (Ngati Porou).
WHAT IS THE IWI LEADERS GROUP?
It is a forum of representatives from major iwi around the country. They have meetings and also support a number of subcommittees which consult the Government and others on issues such as fresh water and constitutional reform.
It has become the Government's go-to group when consultation with Maori is required. It also consists of several iwi with large Treaty settlements behind them, meaning the group holds significant economic and political leverage.
However, there has been criticism about the lack of wider consultation with other Maori groups by the Government.
The Iwi Leaders Group is seen as reasonably sympathetic to the Government, supporting policy which promotes big business while not necessarily helping the everyday Maori.
ARE THERE OTHER MAORI LEADER GROUPS?
The Federation of Maori Authorities is a collective of Maori-owned entities that describes itself as being dedicated to indigenous economic development.
The national Maori Council is a statutory body that most recently led the water claim to the Waitangi Tribunal. Both groups have faded in significance in recent years, although the recent water debate has put the Maori Council back in the limelight.