A group of Far North iwi and hapū have united to take a landmark case to the High Court, seeking customary title over a large swath of the coastline to protect the moana for all.
A spokesman for the group, Reuben Taipari, said the hapū and iwi have been concerned for generations about the degradation of the sea, and if granted, customary marine title (CMT) would benefit everybody in the Far North, as well as visitors and tourists who want to visit the area.
On Thursday, 11 of 12 applicants, including the nine hapū of Ahipara, Te Aupōuri, Te Rarawa, Ngāi Takoto and Ngāti Kahu, agreed to collectively apply for a High Court case for the takutai moana of Te Hiku ō Te Ika.
The groups signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to go forward together in an application for a High Court case in the next two years.
Taipari said under the Marine and Coastal Area Act 2011, most clients would have had hearings closer to 2040 if this case had not been lodged six years ago.
He said the area that is united covers all of Te Oneroa-a-Tōhē down to the Hokianga.
The benefits of a CMT would potentially give the iwi and hapū veto rights on resource consent applications; conservation permission right for conservation activities, the right to create planning documents, rights concerning certain minerals, rights concerning newly found taonga tūturu (an object that relates to Māori culture, history, or society), and the right to be consulted on marine mammal watching permits and restrict access to wāhi tapu sites.
Taipari said the level of unity among the group was unprecedented in the almost 20 years he has been working on the issue.
“I’ve been waiting more than 17 years to get this level of traction, and to be able to get to this stage is significant.”
He said having the the iwi and hapū gain CMT over the area would benefit everybody, and they were already working with Pākehā experts to work alongside the cultural aspects of the plan.
"This is about protecting the moana for everybody in our community. And we want to get everybody to help protect the moana for the next generations."
Taipari said he welcomed any debate from people who had concerns that hapū and iwi having CMT would be detrimental to them.
“I welcome anybody who wants to learn more and find out how [it will affect them], but the aim is to make the moana a better, more sustainable place for everybody to enjoy.”
He said while Māori have much cultural knowledge and expertise about the moana, other ideas were always welcome regarding how to enhance the marine environment and protect marine life.
“It’s the moana and it’s there for everybody, and we have a role to play to ensure it’s protected so it’s there for our tamariki and mokopuna,” Taipari said.
“I’d encourage any discussions with people wanting to know more. But if it’s just about beating down on Māori, I’m not interested in that. We’re working for the long-term future of the moana, and it’s about working together - our cultural expertise and Pākehā expertise - for the good of everybody.
“If somebody has questions, or wants more understanding on how this will benefit everybody ... I’m happy to sit down with them and work with them to help.”
From here, the application will be submitted and accepted by the High Court and a hearing date will be set.
“This is significant in our efforts to fight and win our more than 20-year battle for our foreshore and seabed since 2002, which [culminated in] the famous foreshore and seabed hīkoi [in] 2004. To come together is a sign of the times that Māori are now experienced and understand how this process works. Success is our inevitable goal.
“I am indebted to the 11 registered applicants who have agreed to this MOU on good faith, and we will respect and work together as much as possible.”