30 May 2013

Whanganui River likely to get special legal status

9:59 am on 30 May 2013

The Whanganui River Maori Trust Board says a change to the river's management will mean iwi can ensure those using it are giving something back.

In the first Treaty settlement of its kind, the Whanganui River is expected to be given special status, and will be its own legal entity, called Te Awa Tupua.

The settlement will include a strategy involving local iwi and all four local councils linked to the river.

A local kaumatua and member of the Whanganui River Maori Trust Board, John Maihi, says giving the river its own legal status is what his tupuna (ancestors) always wanted.

Mr Maihi says Whanganui River iwi will act as guardians of the awa (river), and an iwi member and Crown representative will act as its legal voice, known as Te Pou Tupua.

He says the arrangement is consistent with the proverbs of their tupuna, who never wanted the iwi to own the river, but instead to be its kaitiaki (guardians).

Whanganui iwi have sought to have their interests in the river acknowledged by the Crown through the legal system since 1873.

Iwi have been negotiating the details of an interim agreement for the River claim known as the Tutohu Whakatupua, which the Crown approved last August.

A negotiator for the Trust Board, Gerrard Albert, says he hopes a deed of settlement will be signed by the end of the year.

Mr Albert says anyone who wants to use the river for commercial reasons will have to consult with the Iwi first.

"Putting the river at the centre, and therefore the iwi at the centre, is an opportunity, not a threat to anybody, because we found that if we talk early, if we're open about what is needed in terms of use of the river then we're able to establish how we give back to the river, in one way or another."

Whanganui mayor Annette Main backs the iwi and says members of the community who are wary of the river claim change their view when they understand the details.

If all goes to plan a deed of settlement for Whanganui River will be signed around October and legislation will be before Parliament by the end of the year.