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Indigenous World Water Day prompts the
question: who owns the water?

22 March 2007

"The Government’s Sustainable Water Programme of Action is really just another foreshore and seabed catastrophe dressed up" said Tariana Turia, Co-leader for the Maori Party.

Today in the House, the Labour Government issued a statement that the Crown owns water - despite the fact that it would appear they have received a considerable amount of advice clearly stating that Maori customary rights to water still exist or are, at the very least, contestable.

The Associate Minister for the Environment, Hon Nanaia Mahuta said "I can state categorically that the Government position is that water is a public resource – which the Government will manage".

"The Maori Party is absolutely committed towards any initiatives which will ensure the continuation of a sustainable, quality water resource" said Mrs Turia.

"But the issues of water ownership and Crown obligations to engage with Maori as partners to the Treaty of Waitangi are a vital part of this debate – and can not be unilaterally decided by one side of the Treaty partnership".

"Tangata whenua respect their customary rights to water as the exercise of tino rangatiratanga and kaitiakitanga over waterways" said Te Ururoa Flavell, Treaty spokesperson for the Maori Party.

"The Waitangi Tribunal stated in both the Whanganui Report and the Mohaka River Report that water is a taonga" said Mr Flavell. "As such, Maori customary title to water belongs to iwi and hapu, according to tikanga Maori".

"It is particularly ironic that on this day, Indigenous World Water Day, the Crown is willing to step up the ante by basically saying they will extinguish customary title" said Mr Flavell.

"The writing is on the wall. Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the human rights laws and standards that were breached with the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004, will now be breached in the case of water".

"For those who doubt the Crown is moving to take water, my response is to point them in the direction of the Te Arawa Lakes Settlement Act of last year where the lake water was confirmed into Crown ownership."

"It seems as if the Government thinks it can avoid another major nationwide clash with Maori by simply saying they already own water. This is clearly a falsehood. Will it come to a Water Confiscation Bill in Parliament?" ended Mrs Turia.


The Waitangi Tribunal Mohaka River Report stated that tino rangatiratanga was never relinquished over the Mohaka River by Ngati Pahauwera.

The 1999 Waitangi Tribunal Whanganui River Report made particular note; that the hapu of Te-Atihaunui-a-Paparangi respected the river as a taonga of central significance, with the river conceptualised as a whole and indivisible entity, a living being, an ancestor with its own mauri, mana, tapu.

More information about the Indigenous World Water Day Call to action can be found here; a symposium is being held, today, at Te Herenga Waka marae (Victoria University) to mark Indigenous World Water Day.

Tariana Turia, Co-leader, and Te Ururoa Flavell, Treaty Spokesperson
Maori Party

Indigenous peoples' rights   |   Peace Movement Aotearoa