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.

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