Sustenance defines river connection
When Kiingi Tuheitia Pootatau Te Wherowhero VII declared a raahui over the Waikato and Waipaa rivers during the coronavirus crisis, it showed how seriously he takes the kaitiakitanga role of the river.
The raahui, well publicised by the media, was put in place to allow the wellbeing and spirit of the rivers and waterways to regenerate and rejuvenate.
Under the Waikato River Settlement, tribal negotiators successfully sought redress through a vision and strategy titled Te Ture Whaimana that focused on
“restoring and protecting the health and wellbeing of our tupuna, te awa o Waikato”.
The raahui aligned with Te Ture Whaimana – a remedy to improve the management of freshwater and ensure all Iwi, water users and the community share a desire for the continual improvement of the quality of freshwater in the Waikato over time. The raahui, which began in April and ended in May, prohibited food gathering and all recreational activities on the waterways and was largely adhered to.
However, the tribe’s battle to preserve the mana of the river is being tested by Auckland’s demand to draw millions more litres of water from the Waikato River to resolve its current water crisis.
Waikato faced similar demands in 1994 when Auckland’s Watercare Services Ltd wanted to pipe Waikato River water to Auckland to resolve a drought crisis.
Back then the tribe’s principal negotiator Sir Robert Mahuta and a group of kaumaatua including Te Kaapo Clark from Maungatautari marae and Tahau Cooper from Te Awamaarahi marae told the Environment Court hearing that their ancestral waterway had been desecrated by all users of the river and as kaitiaki they were committed to protect it.
Tahau Cooper told the hearing that he was opposed to providing consent as he was raised near Tuakau to ensure the river
“will be dependable for ever.”
That dependability is at risk and Waikato is concerned by the increasing demands on the river.
Auckland Council currently has consent that allows it to take 150 million litres each day, plus 15 million extra due to the drought. Its request to take an extra 200 million litres of water a day from the Waikato River will now be heard by a board of inquiry. In the meantime, Hamilton City Council has done a deal with Watercare to give it 25 million litres a day from its unused water allocation while it waits on the outcome of the inquiry.
There seems to be more twists and turns yet to unfold regarding this Auckland water crisis, however, the tribe’s new leadership are committed to protecting the river and will demand their voice is heard as enshrined in the Waikato River Settlement Act.
Sustenance defines the physical and spiritual connection between the people of Waikato and their tupuna awa, the Waikato River.
The tribe’s name is derived from the river and is an essential part of our identity. Its lifeforce sustains ours, the spirits of our tupuna and the traditions we continue to observe. In ancient times it provided food and water, and a means of transport and trade. Its prestige reflected the mana and mauri of the tribe, embedded in the proverb:
He piko, he taniwha, he piko, he taniwha, Waikato taniwha rau – At every bend a guardian, Waikato of a hundred guardians
The claim to the river was tied to the illegal confiscation of 1.2 million acres of tribal land. With the confiscation of land, control of the river was also ceded.
The Crown forces attacked by both land and water with armed steamers and barges ferrying supplies to colonial troops on the Waikato and Waipaa rivers.
Dr Dean Mahuta says the invasion and ensuing war irrevocably changed the world of the tribe.
In his thesis on the river and Waikato identity, he states the tribe turned to the river for survival. Landless and homeless, they had nothing else. Fortunately the river was bountiful with eels, whitebait, freshwater crayfish, mullet, freshwater pipi, mussels and watercress.
Today, these foods have largely disappeared.
Eels are still present but under increasing pressure with migratory patterns and breeding hampered by pump stations and dams. Introduced Koi carp have also infested the river since 1983, muddying the water and destroying native plant and fish habitat.
Sir Robert Mahuta laid the groundwork for the river claim. This work was completed by his wife, Lady Raiha, and former politician and Tekaumarua chair, Tukoroirangi Morgan. The Waikato River Settlement with the Crown was signed in 2008 on the river bank at Tuurangawaewae marae, before Kiingi Tuuheitia Pootatau Te Wherowhero VII.