The waka Tāheretikitiki was gifted to Waikato rangatira King Tāwhiao by Ngāti Whātua rangatira Paora Tūhaere in the 1870s. A replica of Tāheretikitiki is still used by Waikato. (Photo: supplied)

Iwi and hapū are crucial to Auckland’s water resource management

Auckland will soon be receiving an additional 75 million litres of water per day from the Waikato River as an interim measure to help ease the worst water shortage in 25 years. A Ngāti Whātua historian says this sharing of resources between Tāmaki Makaurau and Waikato goes back a very long way. 

For Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei, sieges are not new. Before the coming of our now Pākehā neighbours, we were from time to time required to fend off the incursions of other iwi seeking to take the bounty of our lands from us. Seeking to take away the taonga that is Tāmaki Makaurau.

Then following the arrival of the Pākehā, who were invited to share parts of our lands by my ancestor rangatira Apihai Te Kawau, my people learned a new kind of slow, unceasing siege. This would eventually see most of our lands which encompasses the Tāmaki isthmus and the inner Waitematā, taken from us through various means until we were reduced to landless, impoverished second class citizens living at the margins of the new towns and communities which grew and thrived from the bounty and sale of our lands.

Leadership, unity, tautoko, a belief that justice would come, and a commitment to doing what was required to protect the collective good, are the keys to overcoming sieges. Also required is, when the time is right, negotiation, which requires compromise to find an outcome that is durable and is mana enhancing to those involved.

As the parrying continues around the water impasse which threatens restrictions for our city, there seems to be an unwillingness from some involved to find a fair and durable outcome, solutions which must include more sustainable water usage solutions and a focus on reducing our dependence on outside sources of water.

I want to tautoko my neighbouring iwi Waikato-Tainui, who my people often united with and shared our collective resources and lands with, when required. This included fighting side-by-side to fend off the fierce incursions of other iwi into the Waikato including Ngāpuhi from the north, emboldened and made almost invincible by the new muskets of the Pākehā.

The people of Tainui, like all iwi and hapū, have known loss and exclusion, confiscation and dislocation of lands and the Waikato awa – a powerful ancestor and sustainer of the iwi – its waters degraded, its mana, like that of the iwi it sustains, diminished.

The Waikato River

In times of need and incursion over generations, my people have shared our lands and resources with our Tainui whanaunga. At times we, in turn, would be nurtured and sustained by the waters of the awa, alongside the people of Waikato-Tainui. We remain eternally grateful and humbled by the hospitality shown at different times in our shared history by our neighbours, and proud of the reciprocation shown by our people and the sharing of our land and resources.

Our historical connection to the awa in no way allows us to claim mana or any place to speak and influence an outcome on what occurs in the lands and involving the resources of others, just as our shared history does not allow Tainui to assert mana and influence over us in our domain which, of course, applies to all other iwi or groups.

The impasse around the awa which is causing further concern and uncertainty for those of us who live in Auckland needs to be resolved. It is not helped by the CEO of the Waikato River Authority trying to monetise the situation and effectively blackmail the people of Auckland into forking out tens of millions a day. But as I have said, it is not for me to speak and make demands on the negotiations of my neighbours in their lands and affairs.

There are many fathers to the degradation of the river and it requires a considered, fair and collective response that develops outcomes that put the health and well-being of the river at the heart of any process to reverse the degradation is essential. There are many causes for the dire shortage our city is facing, including the impacts of climate change, wastage, and the demands of massive population increase in Tāmaki Makaurau.

Ngāti Whātua like those who have joined us over time in calling Tāmaki Makaurau home will face the consequences of this water crisis. Now, for reasons outside of our control, we are required to rely on the Waikato river to top up a shortfall of water needed in our rohe.

While there are a number of issues outside the control of Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei, there are some things we can have input to. To explore better ways to manage the wai resource we do have to make best practise and sustainability a pivotal part of any future water management approach, we will work alongside iwi and hāpu who also are mana whenua of wider Tāmaki Makaurau to seek out solutions to the problems and water siege that we are forced to endure and which threatens unhelpful restrictions for us all.

Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei has called a hui for later this month where we will come together with those iwi who also are mana whenua of wider Tāmaki Makaurau to put our collective minds and resources together to develop a strategy to support our council, in a process to find solutions to the new wai crisis we collectively face.

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