The Indigenous inhabitants of New Zealand/Aotearoa (Māori) also have a rich and diverse set of relationships with water (wai). Water exists on a cultural and spiritual level and is a central component of lore, songs, dances and as art (Williams 2006), with Moggridge, B. and R. Mihinui. (2010) providing principles on the value of water to both Indigenous Australian’s and Māori peoples including: lore, language, knowledge, gender custodial and intergenerational responsibilities, connectivity and evolving cultures. Rivers and lakes are important parts of iwi (tribal) identity. In an Australian context, upon greeting another Indigenous person is to identify “who is your mob and where you from?”. The equivalent in Māori is to ask “Ko wai koe?” which queries “Who are you?” but more literally translates as “Who are your waters?” (Ruru, 2019).
With British colonisation from the early 19th Century, English colonial law was applied in New Zealand, initially through the government of NSW in Australia, and later directly through an NZ-based governor (from 1841) and then parliament (from 1854). Colonial law established different rules for how river and lake banks and beds, navigable flowing waters, and non-navigable rivers can be owned and managed (Memon and Kirk 2012; Ruru 2019). Land surveyors had an important role in determining land ownership around waterways, through implementation of the ‘Queen’s chain’, a strip of land along the coast, major rivers and significant lakes to be reserved from subsequent Crown land sales (Baldwin 1997). For the people in Rotorua the Te Arawa explained that the lake beds can be owned, but not the water above it as per their Settlement (Section 25) with the Crown (Ministry of Justice 2006), and compared to an adjoining land owner (non-Māori) to a river owns under entitlements - the riverbed up to the river’s middle flow, here we see the differences between Māori Treaty Settlements (values based) and colonial/Crown law (ownership) and creates a bias and brings about inequality.
A key difference in the relationship between colonists and Indigenous peoples in Australia and New Zealand was the signing of a treaty between the Crown and Māori tribes in New Zealand. In 1840 the Treaty of Waitangi (hereafter the ‘Treaty’) was signed between the British Crown and about 540 Māori chiefs (rangatira) (see Berke et al. 2002; Valentine et al. 2007 for reviews). In the Treaty Māori ceded the sovereignty of New Zealand to Britain and gave the Crown an exclusive right to buy lands they wish to sell. In return Māori were guaranteed full rights of ownership of their lands, forests, fisheries and other possessions and the rights and privileges of British subjects. Dispute arose almost immediately based on differences in meanings between the English and the Māori text, the latter of which was signed by the majority of rangatira (Stokes, 1992). The word ‘sovereignty’ in the English text was translated to the Māori ‘kawanatanga’ (governance). This led to a belief amongst Māori that they would have a greater degree of self-governance than eventuated. The English version guaranteed to Māori ‘undisturbed possession’ of their ‘properties’, which had a particular focus on physical features such as land and water, and access to resources such as fisheries. The Māori version guaranteed ‘tino rangatiratanga’ (full authority) over ‘taonga’ (treasures), which included both physical resources and spiritual relationships with the environment.
Over the decades following the signing of the Treaty there was an ongoing process of dispossession of Māori, often in direct breach of Treaty principles (see Crocker et al. 2014). This included illegal land purchases and quasi-legal dispossession through the Native Land Court. Differences in perspective of ownership were the basis of many of these disputes. Māori beliefs were largely based on temporary stewardship of land and water, with no concept governing the permanent sale of land. Land agents and settlers often purchased land from individual iwi members, without understanding Māori social structures (Cowie 2012, Crocker et al. 2014). Considerable social disruption was fueled by strategic alliances between the Crown and iwi, and compounded the disruptions generated by the introduction of muskets and the proliferation of European diseases. This culminated in open warfare between Māori and Europeans in many parts of New Zealand through the 1860s and 1870s (‘the New Zealand Wars’ see Wright, 2006).
Beginning in the 1950s, there was increasing recognition of injustices which Māori had experienced and a growing recognition of the Treaty as New Zealand’s foundational document. The Treaty of Waitangi Act (1975) established a permanent commission of inquiry to address breaches of the Treaty by the Crown and over the following decades this led to an often-contentious series of claims for redress (see Cowie 2012). Several major settlements were awarded to iwi recognizing breaches of the key principles of the treaty (see Wheen and Hayward 2012).
A major period of environmental law reform in the last 1980’s led to the establishment of the New Zealand Resource Management Act (RMA) (1991). The RMA referred to being consistent with the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi 1840 and sought to generate planning processes which were inclusive of Māori perspectives (Beverley 1997). The RMA does not state who owns water but vests day-to-day control to local government and requires them to set enforceable quantity and quality limits to meet freshwater objectives. Ruru (2019) claims that despite the inclusivity of the RMA of the Treaty has done little to protect Māori interests. Further Love and Atiawa 2001 states that following a 10year review the RMA promised a lot for Māori in terms of having the Māori voice heard in resource management matters. Many Māori are perhaps disappointed with how things have turned out. In part the provisions especially in Part II of the RMA, section 6(e), 7 (a) and 8 lacked the force to oblige Local Government in particular to develop a more partnership arrangement 8 with Māori. However, in Williams (2006), believes the RMA provides various levels of contemporary recognition that have been accorded Māori vis‐a‐vis and the management of waterways through five aspects. Williams (2006) also states that there is an ongoing role for Māori in the management of waterways and adjoining riparian areas.
Harmsworth et al (2016), describes further freshwater policy development in New Zealand in the 2014 National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management (NPS-FM), which identifies 13 values and uses for freshwater along. There are calls for an increased role of Māori in decision making about natural resources including water, and for active participation in co-governance (Memon and Kirk 2012, Te Aho 2010, Ruru 2009a, b, c, d, 2011a, b, 2012, Waitangi Tribunal 2011). There has been an increasing focus on co-governance and co-management of freshwater resources in New Zealand in the last 20 years through a range of wetland, lake, and catchment rehabilitation projects. In the case of the Whanganui River, the Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claims Settlement) Act 2017 was passed as a Treaty of Waitangi settlement after eight years of negotiation between the Whanganui iwi and the Crown (O'Donnell and Talbot-Jones 2018). However little progression on the rights to water as an entitlement or Māori as an owner of water under colonial laws is limited for instance with systems being fully or over allocated and no access to water entitlements (Waikato) or the rights to lake beds and not water (Rotorua).
In the South Island of New Zealand, the largest iwi by area is the Ngāi Tahu. Freshwater management for the Ngāi Tahu is of great concern with water resources highly contested within many catchments. Ngāi Tahu have formalised cultural values of water into the Cultural Health Index (CHI), which assesses the health of natural environments through a Māori methodology (Tipa and Teirney 2002). This recognised the challenge that “while qualitative descriptions of values provide a rich account of the relationships of people with the waterways that are important to them, they do not readily lend themselves to being expressed in a numerical form” Durette and Barcham (2009). The was developed by identifying the indicators that Māori use to assess stream health through an interactive “conversation style” interview (Table 1).
Through this process a set of indicators were developed which included geomorphology (river shape, sediment, riverbank characteristics), hydrology (flows, movement of water, sound of flow, flow regime), water quality (temperature, clarity, presence of pollutants), riparian condition (extent of native vegetation at a site and in the catchment) and ecosystem services (fish are safe to eat, water is safe to drink). Once the list of indicators was identified, a recording form was composed for community members to assess the health at each stream site. Because the objective was to develop a quantitative index the recording form differentiated between positive and negative statements and score indicators and the site overall on a numerical scale (1-5) (see Tipa and Teirney 2002 for more detail). The data were collected and retained by the community who then provided scores to the local government agency. An additional process sought to detect relationships between the CHI and monitoring data collected according to Western methodologies. Tipa and Teirney (2002) state: “A fundamental aspect of the project given that Māori may have cultural and spiritual values outside those identified and captured by western measures. This means that at times the CHI and western science results may not be exactly the same – and rightly so.”
Applying tools like the CHI, Ngāi Tahu have increasingly engaged in a process of restoring rights of access to waterways. For example, the Waitaki River north of Dunedin has been dammed, stored, diverted, directed and drained with eight major power schemes above where Ngāi Tahu have water entitlements (ownership of water allocations) (Tipa, 2013). Tipa (2013) emphasises that development of natural resources affects Ngāi Tahu cultural beliefs, values, practices and impede their customary rights that derive from their connections to specific lands and waters. In 2014 amendments were made to the Ngāi Tahu Claims Settlement Act 1998 (NTCS Act) based on the history and association Ngāi Tahu have with the Waitaki and water needs for cultural practises and the food resources (mahinga kai). The amendments (clause 495 and 496 of NTCS Act) included a water allocation of 79m3/s for cultural uses and enhancing mahinga kai in the Waitaki, with a further 11m3/s reserved for enhancement of Wainono Lagoon (north of the Waitaki mouth) for mahinga kai.
Despite this progress, consultation with Ngāi Tahu revealed ongoing challenges. Senior members of Ngāi Tahu believe that the model of allocation is flawed because it separates land tenure and water allocations (similar to Australia’s National Water Initiative 2004) meaning that the iwi have limited ability to use the allocations provided. Ngāi Tahu are aiming to purchase lands where they can use the entitlement. Gail Tipa, a Ngāi Tahu woman, cultural expert and water scientist believes that Ngāi Tahu must have a greater responsibility for their water resources and a say in how they are managed (pers. comm. 2019). There is an increasing frustration that Western governance constructs that separate rights to land and water are impeding iwi management. This is particularly problematic where catchment-scale land degradation is contributing to loss of culturally significant species and resources. As more pressure falls upon water resources and the management of them the spiritual and cultural connections that Indigenous people have to water have been largely overlooked within these water allocation systems globally (Jackson, 2005). In response to this Ngāi Tahu produced a Freshwater Policy (Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, 2015). These types of iwi policy statements are increasingly seen as an important part of policy and management landscapes (Pham et al. 2019) and a key component of how iwi can work with resource management agencies.