Iwi say the High Court's dismissal of appeals against the expansion of a water bottling plant isn't just a loss for them, but a loss for all of New Zealand.
In a judgement released today, the High Court dismissed Te Runanga o Ngati Awa's appeal to stop the expansion of Otakiri Springs outside of Whakatāne - which would see the plant take 1.1 million cubic litres of water each year largely for export to China.
Te Runanga o Ngati Awa manahautu Leonie Simpson said the iwi had invested time, effort, and resources over several years and was incredibly disappointed in the outcome.
Te Runanga o Ngati Awa has opposed the expansion of the plant since consents were granted by the Whakatane District Council and the Bay of Plenty Regional Council.
Its concerns about the export of millions of plastic bottles of water, the impact on its role as kaitiaki and the impact on te mauri o te wai, the life force of the water, were heard in the Environment Court last year and in the High Court in July this year.
The springs have been locally owned for more than 30 years but for the past five years, the Otakiri Springs company board has wanted Creswell NZ, owned by Chinese water bottling giant Nongfu, to take over and grow the business.
Simpson said the support the iwi had received in its fight against the company showed that water bottling wasn't just an issue for iwi, but an issue for all of New Zealand.
She said it was "incongruous" that the Government had declared a climate change emergency yet was doing nothing to prevent the bottling of pristine water into millions of plastic bottles to be exported around the world.
With climate change, the iwi knows access to water will only get harder and Simpson said the Government needed to act now to implement legislation to manage the industry.
"What is happening in our rohe is also happening in other parts of Aotearoa," she said.
"We don't just need to look at how we're responding to climate change at home, but also globally. We need to think about how Aotearoa will be responding on the world stage to climate change. Is our response to be the creation and export of millions of plastic bottles?"
Making the iwi's fight harder is the difficulty in having te ao Maori concepts such as kaitiakitanga and te mauri o te wai adequately heard in a western court system.
Simpson said when tikanga and kawa was put alongside legislation, it was diluted. It was an ongoing issue for tangata whenua to ensure its essence was retained when put into very firm legal parameters.
She said the iwi was now considering its options and would need time for in-depth legal analysis of the judgement before making its next move.
"I would like to thank everyone who has given us their support," she said.
"Following the judgement, we have had a flurry of messages from across Aotearoa with people expressing their disappointment in the decision and their support for us. I would like to say thank you to them for reaching out to us, it does mean a lot."
Runanga tumuaki Joe Harawira echoed Simpson and said successive governments had failed to address the issue of water rights in New Zealand.
"The mauri of our wai is harmed through Creswell's application," he said.
"Why are we exporting our purest water when our own people living in Whakatāne, Murupara and Kawerau drink water of the lowest acceptable quality for human consumption?
"Why are we giving our water away for free to overseas companies whose shareholders will be the main beneficiaries?
"And why are we supporting a proposal to build a manufacturing plant with the capacity to create 1800 single-use plastic bottles per minute?" Harawira said.
Creswell NZ managing director Michael Gleissner said in a statement today that the company welcomed the High Court decision to uphold its consents to expand the water bottling plant.
He said it was a thorough, thoughtful and substantial analysis of the issues under the appeal and the company would now take time to consider the judgement in detail.