New Zealand agreement: A river gets legal standing and an independent voice
By Christopher Finlayson
The Crown and negotiators for Whanganui Iwi today signed a framework agreement setting out certain key elements that will form the basis for a settlement of Whanganui Iwi’s historical claims relating to the Whanganui River, Minister for Treaty for Waitangi Negotiations Minister Christopher Finlayson announced.
“This agreement – Tūtohu Whakatupua - is an historic event,” Mr Finlayson said. “Whanganui River iwi have sought to protect the River and have their interests acknowledged by the Crown through the legal system since 1873. They pursued this objective in one of New Zealand’s longest running court cases.
“Today’s agreement which recognises the status of the river as Te Awa Tupua (an integrated, living whole) and the inextricable relationship of iwi with the river is a major step towards the resolution of the historical grievances of Whanganui Iwi and is important nationally.”
The agreement does not signify the end of the settlement, but it is a significant step towards settlement. Matters of detail and additional redress will be to be negotiated between the parties.
However, the agreement sets out the key matters that have been agreed to date in the negotiations relating to the Whanganui River as whole.
Those elements include:
Recognition of the status of the Whanganui River (including its tributaries) as Te Awa Tupua, an integrated, living whole from the mountains to sea; Recognition of Te Awa Tupua as a legal entity, reflecting the view of the River as a living whole and enabling the River to have legal standing and an independent voice; Vesting of the Crown-owned parts of the river-bed in the name of Te Awa Tupua; Appointment of two persons (one by the Crown and the other by the River iwi) to a guardianship role – Te Pou Tupua - to act on behalf of Te Awa Tupua and protect its status and health and wellbeing; Development of a set of Te Awa Tupua values, recognising the intrinsic characteristics of the river and providing guidance to decision-makers; and Development of a Whole of River Strategy by collaboration between iwi, central and local government, commercial and recreational users and other community groups.. The strategy will identify issues for the river, consider ways of addressing them, and recommend actions. The goal of the strategy will be to ensure the long-term environmental, social, cultural and economic health and wellbeing of the river. ”This agreement recognises Whanganui Iwi’s commitment to place the interests of the river at the centre of the settlement,” Mr Finlayson said. “Whanganui Iwi have not sought to have their relationship with the river defined in these settlement negotiations in terms of ownership of the riverbed or water, but have focused on recognising the mana of the river from which the iwi’s mana flows, and on its future health and wellbeing.”
Today’s agreement represents a significant opportunity not only for Whanganui Iwi, but for all who have an interest in the future of the river. The agreements reached so far in recognising the status of the river, appointing a river guardian, and developing river values and a whole of river strategy advance the goals of Whanganui Iwi while also ensuring the rights of third parties including private landowners and public access will continue.
“Whanganui Iwi also recognise the value others place on the river and wanted to ensure that all stakeholders and the river community as a whole are actively engaged in developing the long-term future of the river and ensuring its wellbeing,” said Mr Finlayson.
“That engagement process has already begun as part of the negotiation process and Whanganui Iwi and the Crown will be working closely with local government, other iwi and stakeholders as the remaining details of the Te Awa Tupua framework are developed over coming months.”
The parties are working towards the goal of achieving a deed of settlement by the end of the year which will then need to be the subject of Cabinet approval and ratification by the members of Whanganui Iwi.