Rivers are people too! | Kaupapa on the Couch

Nau mai, haere mai ki Kaupapa On The Couch
(Welcome to Kaupapa On The Couch) Ko te māoritanga te kaupapa o te rā nei. (It’s about Māori stuff!) Among Whanganui iwi
there is a very famous saying: The great river flows from the mountains to the sea I am the river and the river is me In March this year, the Te Awa Tupua Bill passed into law And Whanaganui iwi ended a more than 150-year-long struggle to gain recognition for their relationship with the Whanganui River The Te Awa Tupua Bill included legal recognition of the Whanganui River as a person. Holy… that’s a big person. I bet it could eat, like… …a million Big Macs. So what that means, among other things, is that lawsuits can be brought to protect the land on behalf of the land itself, without having to prove that any harm is being done to any people. Here’s Professor Jacinta Ruru to tell us more about the legislation behind it. In terms of legal personality as a concept it’s something that we use quite naturally. But in terms of it in the environment it’s really new. From a Western perspective it began back with Professor Christopher Stone in the United States in the 1970s. He wrote this book Should Trees Have Standing? and he proceeded to answer that by saying our forests, our oceans, our environment ought to be able to have a standing in the courts. Someone ought to be able to speak for and on behalf of nature. I think that’s incredibly exciting, what this legislation has done, because it sees the joining of a Western perspective of law, legal personality, and really seeing it from a Māori perspective. Our lands around us have always had personality. Whanganui iwi have been demanding that their interests in the River be recognised by the Crown since the 1870s. The River that gave life and livelihood to all of their hapū has been damaged and degraded by gravel extraction, the introduction of foreign species, the destruction of their pā tuna, eels, and the diversion of water by the Tongariro Power Division . Check out this really great documentary about the history of Whanganui River and its people. All of this was done despite their very vocal opposition to it. The river is so important to Whanganui iwi that it was even submitted as a separate Treaty claim to their land claims, first brought to the Waitangi Tribunal in 1994. More than 20 years later that Treaty bill resulted
in the Te Awa Tupua Bill. *claps for an uncomfortably long time* And it’s not just Whanganui River. In 2014, Te Urewera National Park, which is in Te Rohe Pōtae,
the tribal lands of Ngāi Tūhoe, was also granted legal personhood. Like Whanganui iwi, what Tūhoe wanted was
to be reunited with the land that is the very source of their cultural identity, their giver of life i.e. their ancestor. Tamati Kruger, chief negotiator of that groundbreaking settlement, knew that the Crown wasn’t gonna give up
ownership of the national park. Tamati’s team suggested that nobody own the land and in fact, the land would own itself. I think it works brilliantly for a national park, absolutely, because many of those principles of the national park remain still in this concept of the legal personality. And as part of that Te Urewera Act, it still welcomes visitors, absolutely, for us all nationally and internationally to visit and to be part of that place, but to
experience it from a Māori worldview, from a Tūhoe worldview. There is no Māori word or term that has the
exact equivalence of the English verb ‘own’ ‘to own something’ There are words that kind of describe it – rangatira, mana, rangatiratanga and whai – so even though assets and resources do pass over into ownership by iwi and hapū after Treaty settlements it’s almost always got more to do with kaitiakitanga or guardianship and protection than ownership. And by giving that entity legal personhood, it is now further protected, in theory, from being exploited or
used in ways that are harmful to it. On the one hand, in a Western legal sense, it’s a new form of resource management that puts
what’s best for the land first. And on the other hand, it’s recognition of a core Māori philosophy, that we’re all connected and the spiritual and
physical wellbeing of people is tied to the spiritual and physical wellbeing
of the natural world around us. As we know, all Māori throughout the country have
stories about the landscape around us, and one that is incredibly important, in terms of our tallest mountain in Aotearoa New Zealand, Aoraki Mt Cook. Now it’s not my story to tell, it’s a Ngāi Tahu story to tell, but it is one I do share and absolutely mihi to
Ngāi Tahu around the story. But it is an important one I think for us as a country and it’s a neat one because it’s incorporated within our legislation. So the Ngāi Tahu Claim Settlement Act of 1998 includes in its schedules a whole lot of these Ngāi Tahu stories
in relationships with the landscape. Ngāi Tahu record part of that story there about Aoraki
being the son of Ranginui that travels down to Papatūānuku with his brothers to find their mother. They’re unable to find her, and so
they say their karakia incorrectly, and they hit that hidden reef, and the whole waka, the South Island, is formed with the brothers clambering to the top of that waka and forming that
whole mountain range of the Southern Alps. All iwi around the country have these stories.
They are an important foundation of tikanga Māori, of the first laws of these lands. What do you think about these important
Māori worldviews being recognised in law? Let us know below. Ka kite au ki a koutou katoa a tērā marama, we’ll see you next month for another
episode of Kaupapa On The Couch.

7 thoughts on “Rivers are people too! | Kaupapa on the Couch

  1. We could only dream of doing something like this in the US. Corporations have zero opposition here and the people are in a deep sleep.

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