What Is Te Awa Tupua?
Te Awa Tupua is a description of the river system from the mountains to the sea including its tributaries and all its elements.
To Whanganui iwi it refers to the river as a whole, its spiritual and physical dimensions and their unity and connection with the river encapsulated by the tribal proverb: "Ko au te awa. Ko te awa ko au (I am the river. The river is me)."
There is no literal translation of Te Awa Tupua in English, but it embraces the spiritual aspects of the river and the intrinsic interrelationship of people with it.
Te Awa Tupua is not a geographic place name, but recognises that the river system has certain interests and intrinsic values of its own.
The main stem of the river will continue to be known as the Whanganui River.
Will private owners of the riverbed be affected by the agreement?
No. They will retain the same rights after any settlement as before.
Statutory recognition of Te Awa Tupua unites the river for the purposes of advocating for the interests of the river and enhancing decision-making processes. It does not give the guardians of Te Awa Tupua decision-making rights over private property.
Through the development of the Whole of River Strategy, private landowners and other interest persons will have a greater opportunity for direct input into the long-term future of the river.
Will public access to the river be affected?
No. The proposed arrangements will not affect public access or use of the river. Guardians of Te Awa Tupua will not have that power nor will they or Whanganui iwi have the power to charge for access.
Will the iwi own the river after this agreement?
No. These arrangements are not about iwi ownership in the commonly accepted sense. Whanganui iwi do not view their relationship with the river in terms of ownership, rather they contend that the river "owns" the iwi, meaning that the iwi has obligations and responsibilities toward the river and the agreement reflects that.
Whanganui iwi have not sought to have their relationship to the river defined in these settlement negotiations in terms of ownership of the riverbed or water, but have focused on recognising the mana of the river from which the iwi's mana flows and its future health and wellbeing.
The iwi's priority is to have the status of the river recognised and ensure its health and wellbeing.
The focus of Whanganui iwi in these arrangements is on the exercise of duties and responsibilities, with all members of the catchment community playing their part in developing the best approach for the river as a whole, not on the creation or assignment of rights and interests.
Who will own the river after this agreement?
No one owns the river now as a complete entity and no one will own it after this agreement.
However, there are a range of ownership interests in parts of the river including its bed.
The Crown owns a significant part of the riverbed in the main stem of river, which is administered by the Commissioner of Crown Lands. The Department of Conservation also holds parts of the riverbed under conservation legislation. These parts of the riverbed that are held by the Crown will now be held in the name of Te Awa Tupua and administered by the guardians.
Any privately owned parts of the bed or other private property interests will not be affected.
Does this agreement affect water rights or create ownership of water?
No, neither Whanganui iwi nor Te Awa Tupua will own the water and no water rights will be created through the proposed settlement.
Whanganui iwi do not view the river or its waters in terms of ownership in a European sense. In their view, the river as a whole and its waters can't be "owned". This is not inconsistent with the Crown's view that no one owns the water in the river.
Whanganui iwi are involved in discussions with the Crown in relation to freshwater management issues at a national level as the Crown continues to review its policy in that area. Whanganui iwi have made it clear that they seek to advance such issues through engagement at a leadership level, not litigation. They are focused on the development of a sustainable freshwater management framework for NZ which appropriately balances economic and environmental interests and recognises the cultural and economic interests of Maori alongside existing stakeholders and the public.
What is the role of Te Pou Tupua as guardian of Te Awa Tupua?
The two persons appointed as Te Pou Tupua will act jointly like trustees and make such decisions as are within their power to do so.
They will be people of high standing and their long-term role will be to influence and advocate for the river and its wellbeing and seek to uphold the status of the river and the river values. In addition, they will exercise any landowner responsibilities in relation to that part of the riverbed currently owned by the Crown.
Do the river values or the Whole of River Strategy require compliance or give the iwi a veto over activity associated with the river or the catchment?
The answer to both questions is no.
The values and the Whole of River Strategy are aimed at developing consensus over time. Those exercising functions and powers in relation to the river such as local and central government will have to give appropriate consideration to the River Strategy, as well as the Te Awa Tupua values and status, in future.
The Whole of River Strategy will identify solutions to strategic issues and make recommendations to the relevant local authorities and the Crown. Both Whanganui iwi and the Crown expect that the process will act to develop consensus at a high level among stakeholders about the way forward.
The Strategy will build on a number of existing river and catchment initiatives.
This approach is about strategic direction and the lens through which the river is viewed, not day to day management. The current regulatory regime remains and councils will continue to make plans and grant resource consents.
How will the public interest be protected?
Local government - the Wanganui District Council, Stratford District Council, Ruapehu District Council and Horizons Regional Council - are working closely with Whanganui iwi and OTS on the detail of the proposals. Whanganui iwi have also been engaging on the proposed arrangements with other stakeholders including recreation, farming and tourism interests and other iwi in the lead up to this milestone.
Local bodies and other catchment stakeholders will also be major participants in the development of the Whole of River Strategy. The River Strategy and River Values will together encapsulate the innate values of the river and the wider community's interest in the river. Iwi have been clear on their desire for the wider river community to be involved.
What will the agreement mean for the catchment community?
The agreement aims to build on and enhance existing catchment initiatives - such as the Whanganui River Catchment Strategy - aimed at protecting and improving the health and wellbeing of the river. All catchment stakeholders will have a role in the development of the Whole of River Strategy once the agreement is completed and implemented through legislation.
The agreement represents a significant opportunity not only for Whanganui iwi but for all who have an interest in the river. The agreements reached so far in recognising the status of the river, appointing a river guardian, and developing river values and a Whole of River Strategy advance the goals of Whanganui iwi while also ensuring the rights of third parties including private landowners and public access will continue.
How long will the settlement process take from here?
The Crown and Whanganui iwi are working together with the aim of completing a deed of settlement in relation to the settlement of the historical Treaty claims of Whanganui iwi in respect of the Whanganui River by the end of 2012.
If agreement on the terms of a deed of settlement is reached, then this will need to be approved by Cabinet and ratified by the members of Whanganui iwi. Any agreed deed of settlement would also then need to be implemented through the enactment of settlement legislation.
The present agreement therefore signals the beginning of a process, not the end in many respects.