Iwi challenge council over water rights

By Te Kuru o te Marama Dewes

A collective of Turanga iwi, led by Te Aitanga a Mahaki, say the Gisborne District Council's freshwater allocation system is racist, with Māori land having no freshwater access rights.  The Gisborne District Council says they support Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki in their democratic right to protest and that they have been working to address the issues raised with all hapū and iwi.

Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki kaumātua Wirangi Pera says, “The water is ours, it started beneath our land and down to Tūranga here and the council say there's no water for us.  We want to grow produce, but there's no water.”

Karen Pewhairangi of Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki and the Tahoka Trust says, “We can't grow food as a livelihood for our people and our descendants because the council has the authority to allocate water, they've already allocated it and we're left out.”

In a statement to Te Ao Māori News, The Gisborne District Council says, “The allocation of water historically has been governed by the Resource Management Act.  We've worked with iwi and stakeholders since 2010 to develop regional freshwater rules to protect freshwater quality and to set levels for the quantity of water people can take.  Work is currently underway to reduce the quantity of water taken in the Waipaoa Catchment so that it can be re-allocated.”

"The water has dried up, the poison and wastewater from businesses also flows into our river, and the tuna are dying out," says Pewhairangi. 

For more than 30 years, Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki have voiced their concerns to the council about mortuary waste flowing into the Tūranganui-a-Kiwa moana, rivers and waterways.

Wīrangi Pera says,”The waste that comes from the hospital and mortuaries, and it flows straight out to where we gather seafood. What we want is for the council to stop doing that, so that our food sources are okay for the generations following us.”

The Gisborne District Council statement reads, “The removal of mortuary waste is a priority and we are working through options for disposal that meet the standards required by our community.  This work reports to [the] Waste Water Management Committee which has representatives of Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki, Ngai Tāmanuhiri, Rongowhakaata and Te Runanga-o-Tūranganui-a-Kiwa.  Our overall project plan will be completed in November, followed by a funding request to Council in December.”

Pera says, “We want to sit down with our council but in the end, here we are, still sitting like this.”

Pewhairangi says, “If they do not heed our instructions we will go elsewhere to seek support to put an end to this.”

The council maintains that they are committed to working collaboratively with iwi, including Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki.