King makes river journey
Visit underlines importance of Waikato River to Maori, writes Elton Smallman.
King Tuheitia used the anniversary of his grandfather's coronation to throw the spotlight back on Maori water rights with a journey down Waikato River yesterday.
The fifth Maori king, King Koroki, was crowned on October 8, 1933, and this year's annual celebration was an opportunity for the Kingitanga to show its cultural and spiritual connection to the river.
King Tuheitia reconnected with the river by gifting it greenstone and pausing at Taupiri for prayers.
Iwi spokesman Tukoroirangi Morgan said the act was also aimed at making a statement in the wake of the controversy surrounding the rights and interests of Maori to fresh water and the Government's proposal to sell state-owned assets.
"The occasion was a symbol and expression to this nation the Kingitanga has never surrendered or ceded its sovereignty, its authority over this river," Mr Morgan said.
King Tuheitia boarded one of three waka taua with more than 100 paddlers in support who braved the early-morning chill in a three-hour trip covering about 15 kilometres from Ngaruawahia to Waahi Pa at Huntly.
Nopera Williams, 17, had hoped for warmer weather but was proud to have paddled with the king and said the experience was more special than usual.
"We were all pumping," he said. "It was a good experience because we were paddling for Tainui and he's our king."
The paddlers were joined by Hawaiian ocean voyager Kalei Velasco, 26, who only arrived in August. It was his first time on a waka taua and he said it was an honour to be on board.
"It was an honour to support the Maori whanau and support the cause."
It was rare for the waka to travel so far from their Ngaruawahia base and even rarer for the king to be on board, said Mr Morgan, and it highlighted the significance of the occasion.
"This is a stirring expression that the river still belongs to Kingitanga," he said. "The river and the Kingitanga are inextricably bound."
King Tuheitia hosted a national hui at Turangawaewae Marae last month and drew a line in the sand over ownership of fresh water in New Zealand and is keeping the issue in the forefront of the national debate.
"This is an ongoing conversation and an ongoing attempt to declare to this nation that actually water is important and rare efforts like this one . . . is an indication of how important this issue is across the nation."
He was joined at the commemoration by tribal leaders from around the Tainui region and by key players in the freshwater rights issue such as Sir Eddie Taihakurei Durie and Dame Iritana Tawhiwhirangi.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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