Fight for Maori whaling traditions

By Yvonne Tahana

A national Maori fisheries body has told the International Whaling Commission it is "degrading" for indigenous groups to have to go cap-in-hand to maintain whaling traditions while resources are exploitated by other cultures.

Matiu Rei, chairman of Te Ohu Kaimoana which advocates for Maori fisheries rights, addressed the International Whaling Commission earlier this week and discussed the indigenous whaling catch.

The IWC members voted 48-10 to set quotas for the next six years. Caribbean nation St Vincent and the Grenadines will now be able to kill up to 24 humpback whales between 2013-2018 while Russia's Inuits and other indigenous people can hunt up to 744 gray whales. Native Alaskans can kill up to 336 bowhead whales over the same period.

Mr Rei told the IWC which met in Panama City: "It is ironic that countries that have grossly exploited whales for uses other than food and utensils are now imposing their newly acquired 'values' on cultures that continue to suffer the effects and symptoms of colonial exploitation."

Indigenous peoples were reduced to "groups that must seek permission to continue these traditions - from those whose tastes have changed with the wind - [it] is quite simply degrading", he said.

"This commission is already a tool for limiting indigenous traditions through its quotas.

Please ... let them [indigenous peoples] continue to practice their traditions and exercise their customary rights."

What support the organisation would get from wider Maoridom for a return to whaling is unclear.

Whales are protected by the Department of Conservation under the Marine Mammals Act. Successive governments have backed the moratorium on whaling which dates to 1986 and opposed controversial "scientific" whaling for research purposes such as that carried out by Japan.

However, a statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said New Zealand backed indigenous whaling - to an extent.

"We are willing to support proposals to set catch limits for aboriginal subsistence whaling that meet the criteria set by the International Whaling Commission and would not significantly impede the recovery of depleted populations."

The Conservation Minister was not available for comment yesterday.

- NZ Herald

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