National Iwi Chairs call for Rāhui to be legally recognised.

By Marena Mane

National Iwi Chairs, Kahurangi Dame Rangimarie Naida Glavish, Rahui Papa, and Margaret Mutu, who represent 80 iwi across Aotearoa, wrote an open letter to the government earlier this week, expressing their concern about how 'rāhui' is being disrespected and ignored over significant sites, waterways, land, and forest.

As noted in the letter provided to Te Ao News, the area where there has been a loss of life and where individuals have continued to use the area before the rāhui has been lifted is of special concern.

The Ahimate River, for example, claimed four lives - four too many - and a rāhui was placed over the area only to be ignored.

According to the National Iwi Chairs Forum, the government is bound under the Treaty of Waitangi and legislation (Resource Management Act) to follow Māori customary directives for the special role of iwi as Kaitiaki (guardians) of our natural resources.

A rāhui is imposed for a variety of reasons, including the necessity to conserve food, resources, or because of a recent death in the region, out of respect for the deceased and to limit the collecting of food or use of that area for a specified period of time, as indicated in the open letter.

Currently, rāhui imposed by Māori iwi has no official legal standing, and no sanctions are publicly placed on anyone who violates a rāhui, despite the fact that doing so is culturally offensive.

National Iwi Chairs say, “It is one thing to call on Māori to participate in the ancient rituals of karakia to bless events and sites and quite another to ignore and at times support ignoring the ancient rituals of rāhui.”

“It is no longer acceptable to have our tikanga ignored and disrespected particularly when our tikanga benefits all peoples, not just Māori. Moreover, the National Iwi Chairs Forum will defend the right for whaanau, hapuu and iwi to exercise their tikanga for rāhui to be recognised and acknowledged. It is time rāhui was given official legal standing within the Pākehā legal system.”

Alana Thomas (Ngāti Rehia and Ngāti Kuri) 

Alana Thomas, lawyer, and director of Kaupare Law, says she fully supports the open letter written by the National Iwi Chairs Forum and thus agrees that rāhui should be given legal standing in Aotearoa.

“It’s about time this custom receives the legal status, but let’s not forget that it has already been legalised in some of the laws,” she says.

According to Thomas, the Fisheries Act contains an example of rāhui; the only difficulty is that the term 'rāhui' is not yet recognised, but the concept of the custom (tikanga) is protected by the Act's laws.

"I roto i taua ture rā, e aro noa iho ana ki te ika me ngā kaimoana, tērā aronga pea tērā take o te rāhui engari anērā atu o te mate o te aituā."
- The Fisheries Act only focuses on fish and seafood and unfortunately not on deaths.

"Me noho te rāhui me ngā āhuatanga katoa o te rāhui ki tētahi ture mahi nei kia kore ia e horomi i ētahi atu o ngā kaupapa, ā, te hia nei ngā kaupapa i roto i te resource management act, kia noho motuhake te rāhui me te mana whakahaere o te rāhui ki ngā hapū ki ngā iwi kia wai atu rānei kia tino kite ai tātou te angitū o tēnei tikanga i roto i a tātou."
Rāhui should be given ​its own status and managed by iwi and hapū and not placed within other laws consumed and hidden within their policies.

In her experience as a lawyer, Thomas argues that legalising rāhui on paper is the easy part; the hard part is enforcing it.

“That’s where the difficulties are going to come. How do we enforce those rāhui and I think that is what I am seeing from the letter by Whaea Naida and the iwi chairs. We actually need the enforcement of the Pākehā law system.”