Pakeha politicians come round to Maori point of view

Changing the mountain's name to Taranaki created a furore at the time.
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Changing the mountain's name to Taranaki created a furore at the time.

OPINION: "Knocking the big ones off" is not a parallel with the statement of Sir Edmund Hillary but in terms of Waitangi Treaty Settlements it seems to me that New Zealand is, in fact, conquering Everest.

This week we have seen the memorandum of understanding signed between the Crown and eight Taranaki iwi including Ngā Rauru whose rohe extends down to Whanganui. But we have also seen the Te Awa Tupua Bill  that deals with the Whanganui River settlement.

The River Bill will include creating a legal personality for the river in the same way many trusts and companies who have legal personalities are described. This means trustees can be appointed with a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of the river.

Decisions can't be made without consultation with these two trustees known as 'pou' and nothing is removed from Resource Management legislation affecting the responsibilities of the Horizons Regional Council for keeping the river running within its banks and enforcing laws relating to consents, permitting and pollution of the river. A healthy river is a healthy people in respect of the mighty Whanganui and for centuries it has carried the economy on its back when it comes to the early days of agriculture by iwi and later colonial pioneers. Carrying the economy on its back is also proven by the fact that it allows the back country of the Whanganui and Taranaki region to drain effectively. Without this the land would be even less stable, and navigation of roadways and tracks impossible.

It is ironic that the legal personhood is seen as a clever and novel response to the tense issues around ownership and kaitiakitanga and yet in Māori terms the river has always had a personality and the European legal construct of the creation only serves to reinforce the tikanga of generations of tangata whenua. The same applies to forests and mountains and so not such a novel idea for Māori who are pleased pākehā politicians have finally come around to their point of view.

Removing the aggravations of big sections of our communities, Māori and pākehā, has removed the roadblock to progress as unified people and we can only hope that with more and more history of co-governance the fears of 'getting one over the other' will dissipate. The fact that there was a huge scrap over the resolution to Motua/Pakaitore, which has been stable and without issue for nearly 20 years, is almost laughable. Similarly the furore over the renaming recognising Taranaki as a legitimate alternative to Egmont is hard to fathom. Nobody in my circles calls the mountain Egmont any longer, and inclusion of an 'h' in Whanganui is fast fading as an issue.

On Waitangi Day the Prime Minister acknowledged, with thanks, those who had protested at Bastion Point. He made the point that although they challenged some and frightened many by threatening the peaceful calm we all believed we lived under; such occupations were the catharsis for a rethink of race relations. Over time these events have led to a far fairer and more harmonious land for us all.

No formal event starts without a mihi or karakia. The National Anthem will forever be sung with the first verse in te reo. Buildings are opened with a blessing. Meetings and conferences are usually closed again with karakia.

Big concessions have not been made to the way we have traditionally done things in comparison to the understanding we have all gained in this cultural dimension, unique to our shores, and adding to the peace we all enjoy. Though a long way to go, we have come too far to stop here.

Well done to all those involved: iwi, pākehā, Crown. We are fast becoming the standard for the settlement of these issues internationally with the United Nations now looking to use similar legislation to take account of natural taonga too precious to keep abusing.

 - Stuff

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