Be ready to keep a straight face when taniwha become the stuff of new law on water rights

It is unusual for Alf to turn to the Human Rights Commission for help, because he is apt to regard the outfit and its work with an element of disdain.

But it might be worth checking whether it has a role to play in influencing what’s happening on the matter of water rights and ownership.

Alf especially observes something on the commission’s web-site about New Zealand being a secular state, although Easter and Christmas are observed as public holidays, Christian prayers often form a part of public ceremonials and there is a degree of statutory recognition of Maori spiritual beliefs.

The critical point (here) is that –

New Zealand is a secular State with no State religion, in which religious and democratic structures are separated. In legislation and policy, the State respects freedom of thought, conscience and religion. There are few constraints on the freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs. Matters of religion and belief are deemed to be a matter for the private, rather than public, sphere.

That’s as it should be.

This being so, it is no small matter to find we legislators may well be called on before long to pass laws giving property rights to iwi based on a belief in taniwha.

Alf can’t think of a precedent, but he can imagine the reaction if he tried to introduce a law to recognise something based on a belief in elves, goblins, leprechauns, nymphs, satyrs and what-have-you.

He was tempted to put fairies on that list, but a mate in the Eketahuna Club pointed out that this might be misconstrued as homophobic.

Anyway, the prospect of having to bring taniwha into considerations became real yesterday at the Waitangi Tribunal.

Yep, it sounds like someone is pulling our chain. But you can check out what’s doing (here) in this Herald report.

The Maori Council has asked the Waitangi Tribunal for a ruling that the relationship of Maori to the water was one of full-blown ownership, saying although Pakeha did not understand the concept of taniwha as guardian spirits of waterways, there was strong evidence of Maori belief that they ‘owned’ the water.

Warning bells should sound when we Pakeha are told we don’t understand something. Next step – should we question what we are being told – is that we will be accused of racism.

This will certainly be the case if we laugh at what we are being told about indigenous beliefs and spiritualism.

Alf accordingly stifled his laughter on reading the Herald account of Maori Council’s counsel Felix Geiringer’s closing submission at the Waitangi Tribunal’s urgent hearing into a claim to try to halt partial asset sales until Maori rights to water are resolved.

He said Pakeha scoffed at the concept of taniwha because they did not understand it.

However, the Maori belief that taniwha were the guardians of their waterways giving them exclusive use of that water was evidence that Maori believed they ‘owned’ the water in modern English terms.

“People say ‘in this resource is my taniwha, my guardian spirit. He protects me, he protects my water resource. He’s not your taniwha so if you are going to use that resource without my permission, he will do terrible things to you’.

“It’s not a joke, it’s a very strong indication that hapu was telling the world that this was their water resource and it couldn’t be used by anyone else without their permission. That is the very essence of a proprietary relationship.”

Now let’s see if we’ve got this right.

The Maori Council’s lawyer was saying (a) Maori believe in taniwha as guardians of the waterways and (b) this belief is evidence of long-held ownership views.

It is worth asking how many Maori believe in taniwha, some 200 years after we Europeans (with a small army of missionaries) came here with our guns, beads, nails, the Bible and so on.

But it is unlikely anyone on the Pakeha side of the divide will want to offend the indigenous people by getting the answer to that question.

Alf suspects the numbers of believers in taniwha have shrunk, just as the numbers of people who believe in God have shrunk.

Certainly the ranks of the flat-earthers have shrunk.

This got Alf to musing on their beliefs.

If he could round up enough people who believe the earth is flat, maybe he could argue that global travel should be banned to protect Kiwis from sailing off the end of the Earth.

To make sure nobody ever does fall off the end of the Earth, moreover, he might introduce legislation to enforce the ban.

Yep. He is sure it would be laughed out of Parliament.

Any legislation based on a belief in elves, leprechauns, or whatever would similarly be hooted out of the House.

But who is willing to bet on our Parliamentarians’ capacity for mockery and derision extending to the first MP who brings taniwha into considerations?

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