There’s taonga in them thar waterways – and Maori will want lots of say in what happens to it

Taonga flowed from here into Ngai Tahu's bank account.

Taonga flowed from here into Ngai Tahu’s bank account.

As a keen observer of the country’s special people – the tangata whenua – Alf sensed there would be dissatisfaction among them about the government’s proposed water management reforms.

Sure enough, Radio NZ has reported the chair of Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu as saying (here)

…the proposed reforms to freshwater management do not do enough to protect the taonga itself.

The chairman, of course, is a splendid bloke by name of Sir Mark Solomon, which means he has been given a knighthood, which means he is even more special than many of our other special people.

This in turn means we should listen very closely to his observations and advice.

He has obviously been reading the paper which sets out the water management reform proposals, including calls for councils to have legal requirements to be more receptive to Maori environmental concerns.

Sir Mark Solomon welcomes this but thinks not enough is being done to protect the water.

He says management systems are needed that give people the right to protect Maori and community values, such as water for drinking and mahinga kai (gathering food).

Sir Mark says iwi must participate at every level when it comes to water issues, from decision making to economic outcomes.

He says it’s about enshrining iwi involvement and giving it appropriate weight in a way that recognises the Treaty Partnership.

The economic outcomes he mentions, we may suppose, include being properly compensated for whatever Maori might claim deserves compensation.

The Maori side of the treaty partnership are dab hands at this, as the NZ Centre for Political Research pointed out (here) in an analysis of the Waitangi Tribunal’s 2011 report on the Wai 262 indigenous flora and fauna claim.

The analysis said the report was packed full of recommendations designed to empower the Maori elite, who happen to be the more special of our special people. Dunno if Sir Mark is too modest to consider himself one of them.

But it’s fair to say Ngai Tahu are among those who have pocketed a few bucks over the years by claiming compensation for this and that, over and above Treaty settlements.

The aforementioned analysis by the NZ Centre for Political Research included Ngai Tahu among the beneficiaries of some fruitful bargaining over the years.

Alf hesitates to call it hard bargaining. He suspects non-Maori on the other side of the bargaining table are a soft touch, when it comes to these sorts of dealings, oh-too-wary that they might be accused of being racists or something.

Let’s see.

We are reminded that In 2002 local iwi Ngati Naho claimed the upgrading of State Highway 1 expressway at Meremere was cutting through the domain of their taniwha, Karu Tahi. After much delay, concessions, and a great deal of international publicity, Transit New Zealand realigned the road.

Around the same time, Contact Energy paid Ngai Tahu $1.6 million to mitigate their objection on “spiritual grounds” to water rights consents for the Clyde Dam.

Ken Mair and the Wanganui iwi used a similar approach against the power company Genesis Energy, over their resource consent for water for the Tongariro Power Station.

These days, evoking the spiritual values of water has enabled Tainui to reap lucrative rewards from a $100 million Waikato River settlement deal – a model that is now being embraced by other iwi up and down the country.

Alf is aware he might not have a proper or correct understanding of these matters. But if taonga means “treasure” (loosely translated), he can see the fiscal prudence in playing the spiritual-values card and doing nicely, thank you, to top up the coffers with a bit of compensation.

It’s good business. They are smart people as well as special.

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