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Tikanga can help solve water issues - Sharples

Monday 27 July 2009, 11:08AM

By Pita Sharples

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WELLINGTON

Maori Affairs Minister Dr Pita Sharples has called for continuing dialogue on the role of iwi in the management and allocation of fresh water.

In a speech this morning to the Indigenous Legal Water Forum in Wellington, Dr Sharples said local hapü and iwi need to be full participants in decisions on water management in their areas, and water ownership issues need to be allowed to come onto the national agenda.

“Throughout time immemorial, indigenous peoples have expressed water as being significant in sacred terms,” said Dr Sharples. “We talk about respecting the significance of the tapu and the wairua – the spiritual force of the water. We refer to the mauri – the lifeforce.

“It is because of this sacred significance, that we, as indigenous peoples, are honour bound to play an active role as tangata tiaki, to ensure that water is protected and used wisely,” he said.

“We seek to maintain our collective responsibilities to respect and protect the environment and communities that give us our identity, our rangatiratanga, our mana.

“It is critical that arrangements for the governance and management of freshwater recognise the rights, interests and perspectives of Mori. Unfortunately, the reason we are all here today is that this is not always the case.

“The state of freshwater is not just an ecological problem, but a problem of governance. Mori, as Treaty partners, need to have a strong voice in any decisions that are made about water,” Dr Sharples said.

“The message that is coming consistently from Mori is that, to date, the legal framework for managing water has not provided an adequate role for Mori.

 

“There remains a lot of uncertainty regarding the nature and extent of Mori rights and interests in freshwater and how these rights might be better reflected in New Zealand law,” he said.

 

“The new Government has shown an encouraging willingness to engage with Mori on these matters.

“I am committed towards ensuring that the Government continues to respect the leadership of iwi on how to best proceed in the complex process of addressing Mori concerns, interests and rights relating to freshwater.

“I want to be quite upfront – I do not support amendment of the Resource Management Act to better facilitate the trading of water consents (or excess water) as a way to manage availability issues,” said Dr Sharples.

 

“Not only does this set up quasi private schemes where big business is able to buy up consents and control access to water, but allocating consents to maximise land-based activity inevitably leads to greater water quality issues.

 

“This narrow focus on economics is driving the degradation of natural water sources by pollution, abstraction for irrigation or power generation, and the flooding and droughts made worse by deforestation and climate change.

“I want to see us turn around our sense of responsibility for each other, and for our natural world.

 

“Mori can bring a unique contribution to freshwater management through the ethic of kaitiakitanga. The contribution that tangata whenua can make towards sustainably managing our water resources will be of benefit to all New Zealanders,” Dr Sharples said.