THE Crown does not deserve the gift of water because it has failed to take care of it, according to Haami Piripi.
Chairman of the Northland iwi, Te Rarawa, Mr Piripi was the first to give evidence at the Waitangi Tribunal’s second stage of hearings into the claim on freshwater at Te Maungarongo Marae in Ohope yesterday.
During his evidence, Mr Piripi said Maori had never ceded their sovereignty and should retain chieftainship over their taonga. He said the Treaty of Waitangi gave the Crown the rights to govern its subjects and create a partnership with Maori.
However, he said since 1840 the Crown had taken away Maori ability to control freshwater in favour of awarding its subjects water rights that could be utilised and sold.
“[Maori] did not turn water into money to trade or sell, or as the bearer of their human waste. Maori ancestors didn’t vest their authority with you; you took and they could not stop you ... You have exploited and poisoned it with pollutants and now we have wadeable rivers – you don’t deserve this taonga.”
Mr Piripi said Maori had an inherent connection with water in their tribal areas and as a result had a right to have their access to the resource when they wanted.
“My river is my rock, where I have stood since and before you came here and after you have forgotten to leave. You may think your science is superior to mine but unlike mine it is from elsewhere.”
He said the partnership created by the Treaty should have ensured that the two parties could have discussed issues, such as freshwater rights, over a period of time.
“The trouble is that it wasn’t negotiated over time, it was taken and sold.”
Maori activist Titewhai Harawira was set to give evidence yesterday afternoon and lawyer Moana Jackson will begin tomorrow’s proceedings, with Whakatane’s Maanu Paul to give his statement in the afternoon.
In March 2012, the Waitangi Tribunal granted an application for an urgent hearing into two claims about Maori proprietary rights in freshwater bodies and geothermal resources.
The first claim relates to the Crown’s policy to privatise four state-owned power companies without first protecting or providing for Maori rights in water resources and the second is about the Government’s resource management reforms.
Stage one of the hearings began in July 2012 and the tribunal found there was a nexus between the asset to be transferred and the Maori claim to rights in the water used by the state-owned companies sufficient to require a halt if the sale would put the issue of rights recognition and remedy beyond the Crown’s ability to deliver.
The next stage of the process will most likely focus on which reform options need to be implemented and adjusted by the Crown in order to ensure that Maori rights and interests in specific water resources are not limited to a greater extent than can be justified in terms of the Treaty.
Members of the tribunal include Chief Judge Wilson Isaac, Dr Robyn Anderson, Ron Crosby, Dr Grant Phillipson and Professor Pou Temara.
The hearing is set to continue until Friday.