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June 1, 2014 | by  | in Arts Features |
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Sharks on All Sides

The current situation with the ownership of water is one which has sharks on all sides. For its part, the Crown has known full well since the 1800s that there is an issue. In recent years they have begun a campaign, starting in 2007 with the ‘Sustainable Programme of Action’ to reinforce to the general public that either “no one owns water” or that “we all own it” (via the Crown). These claims are made under the guise of trying to protect water in a time of increasing scarcity and pollution. But both of these the Crown can largely be said to be responsible for.

From the Māori side, we also have been saying there is an issue since the 1800s. The difficulty, however, is twofold.

Firstly, in the face of the Crown’s blatant attempts to exclude any suggestion of, or actual, Māori ownership of water, Māori groups have had to use the language of ‘ownership’ in response to claim our rights. But ownership rights are not quite an exact fit when it comes to considering traditional conceptions of rangatiratanga over waterways or of manawhenua rights surrounding land with water on it (such as lakes). Trying to describe the nuances of Māori ownership regimes over water, including through the notion of an ‘undivided entity’, is lost on the Crown and are not easily explained to non-Māori through the mass media.

The second major issue is that some Iwi have expressed an eagerness to embrace the idea of selling water permits or profiting from selling water. And on the one hand, it’s true Māori should have the ‘right to develop’, and that means to be able to sell water like any other company or capitalist. But really! Water is not a commodity. It is a basic need – for humans and every living thing. It should not be a commodity. It should be a right.

So when the sharks, on both sides, step out, we really need to reaffirm that water may rightfully be looked after by Māori in this country, but that ‘looking after’ should not extend to selling it. The right of ‘looking after it’ also does not and should not be traded for shares in state-owned enterprises. Those who suggest that are also after money rather than the more noble quest of looking out for the rights of all.

So beware the sharks on all sides of this debate.


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