Every Tribe Has a River
MANA Leader and MP for Te Tai Tokerau
Wed 29 August 2012
This morning I was asked to speak to a group of young people about MANA’s position on Maori water rights. This is what I
“A few years ago Moana Jackson said “every tribe has a river” and in that short statement affirmed Maori people’s historical and spiritual links to their rivers, lakes and waterways
right throughout Aotearoa, in a way that would resonate powerfully with every tribe in the country.
Over the last few years however, National government ministers have allocated water rights, established bodies to manage
regional water resources then appointed their mates to those bodies, and even tried to sell off state assets built by
New Zealanders that rely on free access to, and exclusive use of, our waters. And they have done so with the pompous
arrogance that comes from assuming ownership of that water, ignoring the huge wave of opposition to their asset sales
programme coming from across all sectors of New Zealand Society, and without any reference whatsoever to Maori rights
under the Treaty of Waitangi.
When I raised the issue of Maori rights to water with the New Zealand Maori Council a couple of years ago, Sir Graham
Latimer expressed grave concern about what government’s actions would mean to our Treaty rights and told me that water
was an issue that Council would definitely be taking action on … so it was a foregone conclusion that with National
running amok, the Maori Council would announce their intention to seek a ruling from the Waitangi Tribunal that the
government delay its sale of state assets until such time as Maori interests in water had been settled. And that’s
exactly what they did earlier this year.
Government’s response can only be described as nasty and mean-spirited. They not only opposed the Council claim, the
Prime Minister publicly discounted the authority of the Tribunal, spoke disparagingly of the influence of the Council,
said he would ignore the Tribunal’s rulings, and then demanded that the Tribunal report back in a hurry so that he could
get on with his asset sales programme.
The Tribunal’s report however was clear and unequivocal in its ruling that government would be in breach of the Treaty
if it proceeded with its asset sales programme before Maori water rights had been settled.
Things have also become very difficult for National’s coalition partner, the Maori Party, who originally backed the
Prime Minister’s comment that “nobody owns water” and stayed away from the Council’s claim for an urgent hearing from
the Waitangi Tribunal, but then did a huge backflip by calling the Prime Minister’s comments “insulting” and threatening
to walk away from the coalition. I wish them well with the hard decisions they face in the days ahead.
MANA’s position has been clear from Day one:
we supported the claim that Maori have rights to freshwater resources throughout Aotearoa;
we support the Tribunal finding that historically, hapu and iwi showed usage – including exclusive access and use of the
water for transport, food, and spiritual rites – the closest equivalent of which, in the English sense, is ownership;
we support the requirement that the Tribunal consider the extent of those proprietary rights, and how to recognise those
rights, as part of the next stage of its work on the Maori Council's claim;
and of course, we support the call for the sale of those state assets that use freshwater, to be deferred until such
time as the Maori interest in water has been fully settled.
And finally, MANA calls for a full an open discussion within Maoridom to clarify exactly what those rights and
responsibilities might be, and we call on iwi leaders to support that process by not entering into private negotiations
with the Crown until their own people have been given the right to participate in one of the biggest decisions they may
ever have to make.”