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Iwi wade into Hawke's Bay water issue

By Kaysha Brownlie

Hawke's Bay iwi Ngāti Kahungunu have been issuing warnings for decades about the potential for the town's water supply to be contaminated.

Five weeks ago, those predictions came true when thousands were struck by a severe gastro bug when Havelock North's water became unsafe.

Iwi chairman Ngahiwi Tomoana says it's a "kick in the guts".

"There's been a general 'she'll be right,' and 'more is better', a flagrant disregard for Māori values around the water and for conservation values around the water," Mr Tomoana said.

"So economics has overtaken environmental safety and we say that good environment is good business."

Mr Tomoana says the water crisis was an accident waiting to happen.

Last year, the iwi successfully appealed a Hawke's Bay Regional Council decision to get rid of a clause which stated there was to be no degradation of Heretaunga Plains and Ruataniwha Plains aquifer systems.

The decision states: "The evidence makes it plain that culture and traditions are to the fore, and the relationship of that culture and those traditions with water is clear."

Iwi now say the Regional Council has been reluctant to work with them.

Mr Tomoana says the iwi want to help "but people don't expect that from us, they see that we're a nuisance and in the way, but we're here to help and we haven't been asked".

But a Regional Council spokesperson says they have a "strong working relationship," and invite them to council meetings. There is also a Māori Committee with representatives from Ngāti Kahungunu.

Resource management group manager, Iain Maxwell, added Ngahiwi Tomoana was acting chairman of Hawke's Bay District Health Board during the outbreak so would have been involved.

Hastings District Council has considered the deeper connection Māori have with water, Mayor Lawrence Yule says, and council will work with Māori as they move into the next phase of the water issue.

Local, Bayden Barber, says there is a "chunk of narrative missing" from the general conversation around the water issue.

"We think there was a lost opportunity to speak with iwi and hapū about... our perspectives on water, because we've been protecting water for centuries."

Jerry Hapuku has lived in Havelock North for nearly 50 years, for 24 of those he's owned a Kōhanga Reo.

Mr Hapuku says the early childhood education centre wasn't notified about the outbreak when everyone else was.

"I was really upset... not for me personally but for the kōhanga children that come here."

Ngāti Kahungunu are now determined to resolve the water issue and plan to make sure their cultural values are respected.

- NZ Herald

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