The Freshwater Iwi Leaders' Group has welcomed the Mana Whakahono-a-Rohe amendments secured by the Māori Party to the Resource Management Act (RMA) last week, saying they enhanced mechanisms for tangata whenua participation in the management of natural resources.
"We strongly support the changes, which create a new opportunity for iwi and hapū to engage with councils in a more equitable way," deputy chairman Sir Mark Solomon said.
"We believe that resource-sapping Treaty settlements should not be the sole avenue for iwi to obtain meaningful and collaborative relationships with councils, and the proposed changes to the RMA will enable all iwi to develop agreements with the local authorities in their rohe, thereby improving the engagement of local government with tangata whenua."
The proposed amendments establish Mana Whakahono-a-Rohe agreements, which will require iwi and councils to develop a shared understanding of each other's expectations and roles regarding RMA issues, which will be recorded in a formal agreement.
Sir Mark said the agreements would provide significant benefit to both iwi and councils, but would also deliver much-needed certainty to a wider range of stakeholders.
"The commitment to Mana Whakahono-a-Rohe agreements is ground-breaking, as we at last have a universal vehicle through which iwi and councils can develop a deeper understanding and agree collaborative arrangements that protect our natural ecosystems and enable sustainable development consistent with our kaitiakitanga values," he added.
"These are changes we are proud to have supported through our work with both the Crown and the Māori Party."
The Iwi Leaders' Group believed the amendments provided an important mechanism that would give effect to the essential role tangata whenua played as kaitiaki, without ignoring the significant economic gains that iwi had to offer in terms of sustainable development for local communities.
Iwi wanted to invest in their own rohe, and to be part of the regional economic growth the country was desperately seeking, and the agreements provided a clear path to working more closely with local government, which sought the same outcomes.
The group had worked closely with the Māori Party on the amendments, and commended it for its keen focus throughout the process on ensuring that iwi had greater opportunities to give effect to their role as kaitiaki in their respective rohe.
"These are significant gains ... that will benefit iwi and hapū, and we look forward to putting them into action on the ground in our various communities for the good of our lands, waters, and other treasured natural ecosystems," Sir Mark said.
"Much work remains to be done in relation to the Crown's wider RMA and freshwater reforms, aspects of which are being considered by the Waitangi Tribunal this week, and resourcing to support iwi and councils in these new initiatives will also be important, but this is a very positive step in the right direction."