Hone Harawira: Open letter to the Prime Minister

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Even Pakeha people understand how important water is to Maori, writes Mana Party leader Hone Harawira

Hone Harawira. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Hone Harawira. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Kia ora, John

I'm down at Turangawaewae for the water hui, and I just wanted to clear up a few things before I go in. You see John, there's quite a bit of confusion about how Maori are being pushed to help you with your asset sales problem, but there doesn't seem to be much of a push from your side to help Maori with any of our problems - like poverty, low wages, massive unemployment, poor housing, benefit cuts ... you know the rest.

We know things are hard for your Government right now, what with trying to sell off power companies when you don't own the water that drives them - but really John, that's something your officials should have sorted out a long time ago.

The consultation hui earlier this year showed clearly that Maori don't support asset sales, there was that huge march on Parliament against it, and there's that petition on the street right now with 250,000 signatures and growing, opposing asset sales as well.

And you must have known John, that Maori would take action to protect their water rights under the Treaty of Waitangi.

That's why Maori were so upset when you ridiculed the idea of a claim to the Waitangi Tribunal, then belittled the New Zealand Maori Council for daring to take the claim in the first place, and then said that the Tribunal wasn't worth listening to anyway.

You see John, the Tribunal is one of the only avenues we have to present our claims in our own way. In fact it's the only place where what our kaumatua and kuia have to say has any meaning. It's deeply flawed of course, but it has a special place as the nation's only specialist judicial body on Treaty issues.

That's why when the Tribunal said that "government would be in breach of the Treaty if it proceeded with its asset sales programme before Maori water rights had been settled", we really hoped that you might do the right thing and let the judicial process run its course.

So when you decided to simply defer the sale, and engage in behind-closed-door deals with selected iwi leaders, you can imagine how ... upset ... we got.

Because this is an important issue John, to all of us. This is about water, and in particular Maori interests in that water.

And water really is a taonga to us John, a treasure. It's hard to explain in English but water is something to cherish, to care for, to respect and to protect for future generations. Moana Jackson says "every tribe has a river" and the people of Whanganui have a saying: "I am the river and the river is me". Water is part of who we are.

And Maori water rights need to be understood in that context, John. Not as a tradeable commodity, but as part and parcel of our very existence.

Even Pakeha people get that; I think that might be why so many of them oppose asset sales too.

The Tribunal has confirmed those rights (with the support of a number of your own Crown witnesses), and the Council has quite rightly asked the Tribunal to consider the extent of those rights and how best to recognise them in stage two of the hearings.

That's not to deny hapu and iwi their rightful claims to waterways in their territories, but the issue of Maori water rights calls for a nationwide discussion and commitment to standards and expectations far greater than what can be achieved by small groups meeting behind closed doors.

John, this is one of the biggest decisions Maori will ever make, and five weeks just isn't enough time to do it justice.

So where do we go from here?

Well ... if I were the Prime Minister John, I think I'd:

•Set aside the asset sales programme for a while.

•Give the Tribunal time to complete stage two of the hearings.

•Give Maori time to go back and share all that information with our kaumatua and our kuia, our cousins, our kids, and yes even our mokos as well, because the decisions we make today will affect them and their mokos too. And time, too, for hapu and iwi to consider the wider implications for them as well.

•Give the rest of the country time to give their views too, because on this issue, every New Zealander should have a say.

•And then I'd call everyone back to the table in 12 months, and see if we could come up with a solution that works for all.

Anyway, gimme a bell some time and let's have a cup of tea and a chat.

Yours sincerely,

Hone Harawira


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