14 Sep 2012

Iwi leaders urge unity on water rights

6:52 pm on 14 September 2012

Iwi Chairs Forum leaders have endorsed a resolution by senior Maori for tribal unity over water rights.

Leaders met on Friday at Turangawaewae Marae in Ngaruawahia, one day after a hui agreed to select a panel of Maori to negotiate with the Crown on the issue of proprietary water rights.

Te Rarawa chair Haami Piripi - from the Far North - says the 64 tribal leaders are united in not entering individual negotiations with the Government ahead of the planned partial sale of taxpayer-owned hydro power generators.

But Mr Piripi says individual iwi and hapu are still free to enter consultation with the Crown - because each tribe has its own mana.

The forum also backed the continued work of the Freshwater Iwi Leaders Group - which meets cabinet ministers to discuss water reforms.

Prime Minister John Key has said the Government will negotiate with iwi on an individual basis.

The Crown is planning to enter direct talks with iwi along the Waikato River, a source of water used by Mighty River Power, the first hydro power generator due to be partially-sold.

Maori voted at the national water hui on Thursday to stand united and support court action if all else fails.

More than 1000 people attended the hui.

More than 1000 people attended the hui. Photo: RNZ

The hui called by the Maori King was prompted by the Government's decision to speak to selected iwi separately.

Those at the national summit agreed to nominate several senior Maori to negotiate with the Crown on proprietary water rights.

A resolution from the hui declares this must happen before the sales of shares and before hapu and iwi enter talks with the Government.

The resolution also says if high-level Maori and Crown talks don't happen, iwi will support court action through the Maori Council.

Meeting convenor Tukoroirangi Morgan says conducting negotiations with the Crown is urgent.

Mr Morgan says that Maori are no stranger to a long fight, and tribes will work shoulder to shoulder and take as long as they need to resolve the outstanding grievance of water rights.

He nudged politicians by saying the elections are coming and while iwi will still be on one side of the table, the Government might not be on the other side.

King's speech

King Tuheitia addressed an audience of about 1000 people at the end of the hui and made clear what he wants for Maori.

He says the Kingitanga has always been about tino rangatiratanga (self-determination) and an ability to have a voice over the activities that impact on taonga and tangata whenua.

The King says what Maori don't have is the management or control of water, or the power to allocate freshwater.

He says that the ultimate goal for Maori is to take back those roles from regional councils.

Earlier, the national hui heard an iwi group that deals with the Government will bring the most beneficial outcome for Maori.

A keynote speech delivered by the Paramount Chief of Tuwharetoa, Sir Tumu te Heuheu - who is also chairperson of the Freshwater Iwi Leaders Group - says that building on the work they've already done over the past five years will deliver the most benefits for iwi and hapu.

Sir Tumu says history shows what happened when the Crown was forced into a corner over the foreshore and seabed process.

He says the Iwi Leaders Group does not want to see a repeat of that scenario over water.

Sir Tumu also says that a united front provides tribes with a significantly greater strength when campaigning for Maori rights to be recognised.