Mark Solomon: Ngai Tahu support water rights:

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But southern iwi not concerned about the Government's mixed ownership model for NZ power companies.

Ngai Tahu has engaged in the important matter of water rights in good faith. Photo / Supplied
Ngai Tahu has engaged in the important matter of water rights in good faith. Photo / Supplied

In the past week, some Maori have spoken out publicly against recent actions taken by Ngai Tahu. This is not wholly unusual and from time to time criticism is sometimes levelled at our iwi. It has come to be expected by our leaders and management. Some say it is par for the course for organisations like ours that have built economic and financial stability, which benefits not only our tribal members but also the communities in which we live and work.

It was recently made public that Ngai Tahu had provided an affidavit to the High Court in relation to the New Zealand Maori Council's legal action for a judicial review of the Government's decision to partially privatise Mighty River Power. It's unfortunate that our submission to the court was made public prior to the hearing itself; it has necessitated that we provide clarification of our position since some parties have used it to score political points.

First, it is important to note that iwi from around New Zealand are in general agreement that Maori have rights and interests in fresh water and the waterways that sustain us.

On this issue, iwi can be considered unified. That includes iwi from the Far North to ours in the south.

Iwi rights and interests in fresh water are not only assertions by Maori. The reports that have been developed by the influential Land and Water Forum address this issue. The forum's third report released last week provides a clear and unequivocal statement that iwi rights and interests must be resolved in order for the Government to achieve long-term sustainability of our fresh water resource.

The forum is representative of a wide cross-section of New Zealand society, all with interests in fresh water and its sustainable management. It comprised some 60 organisations including Federated Farmers, Fonterra, Dairy NZ, Beef and Lamb NZ, power generators, horticultural and forestry groups, iwi and non-government organisations such as the Forest and Bird Society and Fish & Game New Zealand.

Ngai Tahu has participated in the forum from the beginning, as an individual iwi and as part of the Freshwater Iwi Leaders' Group (ILG). Active engagement in the forum, as well as our direct discussions with the Crown, is of fundamental importance to us given the significance of the issue and the numerous water bodies that are within our traditional takiwa.

I mention the work of the Land and Water Forum because it is illustrative of how Ngai Tahu has engaged on this important matter in good faith.

Water is as much a part of our fragile economy as fisheries, forestry, and aquaculture. Recognition of Maori rights in those industries, while controversial at the time, barely raise an eyebrow more than 20 years later, and most people would agree that it has been beneficial to the economy and New Zealand society.

Notwithstanding the recent comments from vested political interests, our affidavit filed in the High Court is not dividing Maoridom, nor should it be seen as such. We have received supportive responses from around the country for providing perspective on a politically charged and emotional public issue that needs to be resolved for the good of the country.

Our document sets out positions that Ngai Tahu has taken to date on this matter, such as the Shares Plus consultation. It was filed to neither support the Crown nor oppose the Maori Council but to provide illumination to the High Court.

The legal action itself is the business of the Maori Council and the iwi or hapu that are supporting it. It is the right of iwi to take any action they deem appropriate to assert their mana for they ultimately walk their own path.

Ngai Tahu has maintained that we continue to have rights and interests in fresh water as guaranteed by the Treaty of Waitangi. We do not believe that the Government's mixed ownership model for Meridian or Genesis Energy will affect that. Our rights and interests were not affected by the sale of Contact Energy in 1999 and we believe they will remain unaffected by the Government's mixed ownership model for the power companies now.

It is probably on this matter that our views and those of the Maori Council diverge. The fact is that most iwi have agreed that discussion is preferable to litigation, which is a diversion away from the key issues around fresh water.

Our work through the Freshwater ILG has been aimed at building consensus around this issue. A durable solution cannot be achieved without bringing interested parties alongside, not only within Maoridom but the wider community.

What's important to Ngai Tahu is the management and protection of the waterways within our takiwa, and that the recommendations of the Land and Water Forum in relation to matters including governance, the setting of limits and allocation are capable of providing for the expression of iwi rights and interests in a substantive and meaningful way. In this respect, we would like to see a legal framework that provides for iwi participation in governance and decision-making at a national and regional level, including the setting of robust limits, recognition of iwi values and the provision for iwi of an equitable share of water allocation for customary and commercial purposes in every rohe (area).

These are the goals that Ngai Tahu has been actively pursuing along with others in the Iwi Leaders' Group. We have been working to achieve these for the past few years through direct discussions with the Crown and participation in the Land and Water Forum.

There is considerable goodwill to continue our discussions, and we believe that real progress is now being made. The solutions to freshwater issues are complex but are within reach if there is a willingness to look for win-win solutions that reflect the Treaty partnership.

Mark Solomon is kaiwhakahaere (chairman) of Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu.

Dialogue Contributions are welcome and should be 600-800 words. Send your submission to dialogue@nzherald.co.nz. Text may be edited and used in digital formats as well as on paper.

- NZ Herald

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