OPINION: I was watching the current affairs programme Native Affairs on Monday night and was staggered to hear John Tamihere and Maanu Paul attacking Ngai Tahu and Tainui supposedly because of their lust for power and riches.
The discussion went something like this:
Julian Wilcox, the interviewer, asked John Tamihere his thoughts on the iwi leaders engaging with the Prime Minister. He replied with, 'I resent the continued dominance of Ngai Tahu and Waikato Tainui in this discussion. They can speak for themselves. There are many from the north through to Hauraki not yet settled and they cannot speak on our rights by subterfuge wrapped up in an organisation known as the iwi leaders forum. And further you cannot cancel out the Maori Council as they speak for all Maori. Not some.' Tamihere was speaking as the lead negotiator for Ngati Porou ki Hauraki.
Wilcox then asked Maanu Paul, co-chair of the New Zealand Maori Council, for his comments. He stated that, 'They can speak for their own beneficiaries but in doing so they cast the whole matter in to the arena of self interest bluntly called greed.'
'So you are saying the basis of this narrative from the iwi leaders is greed?'
'Yes,' replied Paul. 'These are iwi who have had full and final settlements and they are coming back for another bite of the cherry. It is greed - nothing less.'
Ngai Tahu have consistently maintained that their preference is to discuss such matters in the context of their own Te Wai Pounamu community, their own natural resource base, their traditional customary associations with water, and the political relationships they are engaged in.
This is not the first time that iwi from further north have attacked Ngai Tahu for having a tribal area that includes a rich storehouse of natural resources.
When the Government began to regulate commercial fisheries in the 1980s by introducing the Quota Management System iwi believed that their Treaty guaranteed rights were being eroded.
In 1987 Ngai Tahu, Muriwhenua, Tainui and the New Zealand Maori Council won a High Court injunction preventing the Crown from allocating quota until Maori commercial fishing rights were clarified.
At the same the Muriwhenua and Ngai Tahu Sea Fisheries reports from the Waitangi Tribunal identified that the Treaty of Waitangi guaranteed iwi full, exclusive and undisturbed possession of their fisheries and that iwi held fishing rights in the waters adjacent to their tribal territories. An earlier court case, known as the Te Weehi case, had also shown that all fisheries law since Parliament was founded protected these Maori fishing rights.
The combination of the injunction and the Tribunal reports forced the Crown to negotiate directly with Maori which in turn led to an interim settlement and then a full and final settlement of Maori commercial fisheries claims.
Ten per cent of all species in the QMS were transferred to iwi as well as 50 per cent of Sealord and 20 per cent of all new species yet to enter the QMS.
But the means of allocating the fisheries assets to iwi proved a problematic, litigious and long-drawn-out process as many iwi looked enviously at the fisheries resources that lie off the South Island coastline. They devised arguments that were contrary to and undermined the very principles that had allowed the original claims to be legitimately argued.
These contrived views were premised on the idea that all Maori were to benefit regardless if they had proven a customary association with the resource or not.
For this to be achieved the South Island deep-sea fisheries had to be carved up and allocated to North Island tribes and this is exactly what happened.
Two of the major players that led the charge to plunder Ngai Tahu resources during that time were John Tamihere and the New Zealand Maori Council leadership.
It is not clear what pathway the water rights debate will take but many of the ingredients are similar to the fisheries situation. Ngai Tahu know that they must maintain their own mana and independent authority on any matter and to collectivise their interests with other iwi is risky and should be avoided. Furthermore they are now in a much stronger position with financial resources behind them as well as trustworthy allies and friends, both Maori and Pakeha.
It is the ultimate irony that these pillagers from the north are once again looking at Ngai Tahu and claiming that the southern people are greedy.
The Ngai Tahu track record is pretty good when it comes to water. Thus far the priority has been protection of waterways and the restoration of traditional food gathering areas and little has been said about property or commercial rights.
Maori showmen like Tamihere know how to twist the debate in the direction they want but all South Islanders need to be vigilant as these northern raiders gather once again on the borders and our water is in their sights.
- The Press