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New era of co-management

Negotiations between Waikato-Tainui and the Crown ushered in a new era of co-management of the Waikato River.

Earlier attempts by Waikato to regain its kaitiaki role over the river were largely ignored, including a petition to Parliament in 1929 by Te Puea Herangi seeking the restoration of the tribe’s customary fishing rights.

“The backbone of the settlement ensures our people have a voice,”

Morgan maintains,

“so that whatever decisions we make are backed up by legislative power.”

The Waikato River settlement legislation also brings together regional councils and commercial users under a co-governance model with Waikato-Tainui.

“We can’t clean this river up if it’s just us, so everyone has got to be on board,”

says Morgan.

“The challenge is to change all users’ attitudes to the river. It’s going to take at least two generations to clean it. But in 25 years we want to see a change in behaviour in the way we treat the river, to improve its health and wellbeing.”

Waikato-Tainui Co-River Negotiators Tuku Morgan and Lady Raiha Mahuta.

Negotiating the Waikato River claim was unchartered waters for the Crown and Waikato-Tainui.

But the work was in keeping with its position as the first tribe to directly negotiate a Treaty of Waitangi Settlement with the Crown.

Waikato-Tainui Lands Trust Chief Executive Officer Donna Flavell was the team leader that provided support to the co-negotiators at the time.

Donna says the River Settlement was unique and focused on how to preserve the mana of the river rather than ownership.

“We’ve always said we don’t need a piece of paper to tell us that we own our awa. If we could manage it, it was akin to ownership.”

As Waikato achieved a relativity mechanism in the 1995 Waikato-Tainui Raupatu Settlement that future-proofed that pioneering settlement, the River Team secured a powerful mechanism called Te Ture Whaimana, a vision and strategy for the river that cuts across Resource Management legislation, Crown agencies and territorial authorities.

Since the settlement, the government has reviewed co-management arrangements and in December 2009 a revised Deed of Settlement was mutually agreed.

The Waikato River Authority was formed which has 50/50 decision making with iwi and charged with co-ordinating the clean-up of the river. It received $220 million and over the past 10 years has allocated about $70 million dollars to a range of projects based on its funding priorities.

Donna says the co-management role recognises other iwi from its source at Taupo to Port Waikato and makes the Crown accountable also.

“In settlements, the Crown usually says here’s your settlement, here’s the puutea to fix all the problems we created. But we say Crown you have created this mess and polluted the river you can stay and help us clean it up.”