Water unity under threat

By Yvonne Tahana, Adam Bennett

Tuwharetoa asserts its right to continue to negotiate directly with the Government

King Tuheitia (centre) listens to speakers during the national hui he hosted at Ngaruawahia. Photo / Christine Cornege
King Tuheitia (centre) listens to speakers during the national hui he hosted at Ngaruawahia. Photo / Christine Cornege

The push for Maori unity over negotiations about rights and interests in water looked in danger of unravelling yesterday after Ngati Tuwharetoa asserted its right to negotiate as it saw fit with the Government.

Paramount chief Sir Tumu te Heuheu clarified his iwi's position at the Government's second "Shares Plus" hui in Taupo.

However, Sir Tumu, Whanganui River iwi and the Maori Party in Parliament continued to question the value of the Crown's consultation process.

In a speech opening the second consultation hui on Shares Plus at Wairakei, Sir Tumu said he was "compelled by circumstances" to clarify his iwi's position. He said his iwi would continue with its direct engagement with the Government. "I urge the Crown to respect this."

The clarification comes after King Tuheitia's summit last week resolved that Maori would stand united on water issues, and that a new framework on proprietary rights should be settled before the part-sale of shares in Mighty River Power and before iwi and hapu enter Crown negotiations.

Tuwharetoa Maori Trust Board chairman John Bishara said he expected to face criticism from those who supported summit resolutions.

"It's political, and some people love us and some people will criticise us, but for us personally, here at home ... it's about Tuwharetoa.

Mr Bishara said the tribe wanted its water issues resolved "sooner rather than later." It has a geothermal and hydroelectric claim and owns the bed of Lake Taupo.

But Sir Tumu told yesterday's hui that he did not consider it to be a substitute for his iwi's ongoing engagement with the Crown.

While Tuesday's hui in Hamilton was boycotted by Tainui waka iwi, yesterday's drew about 60 Te Arawa leaders. Representatives from Ngati Raukawa, which is a Tainui tribe, were also present.

Raukawa Settlement Trust chairwoman Vanessa Eparaima said her organisation had always intended to go to the hui.

Her assessment of Shares Plus was that it gave Raukawa nothing more than it already had. It had built up a strong relationship with Mighty River Power and already had a memorandum of understanding.

"There's no value in the plus."

Later yesterday, about 80 iwi representatives attended a hui in Wanganui, after which their tribes said they did not see the gathering as addressing or reflecting their relationship with the Whanganui River.

Spokesman Gerrard Albert said the Tongariro power scheme, which diverts water from the Whanganui River headwaters, had always been an issue for local iwi and they therefore had an interest in the planned assets sales.

"However, it's important to be clear that the current national focus on the sale of shares in the companies and the associated water debate does not address our river as a whole," Mr Albert said.

In Parliament, Te Ururoa Flavell continued the Maori Party's criticism that the series of hui did not represent true consultation, a view party co-leaders Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples presented to the Government at a meeting last night.

Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson rejected that criticism.

"The Government has a preliminary view. It wants to test that view ... The Government acknowledges it may not have thought of everything. It wants to hear other views, and then it will make a decision, and that is why we will have a consultation."

- Additional reporting: Wanganui Chronicle

- NZ Herald

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