The Dominion Post

Maori myths ‘have a place’

As local councils respond to the effects of climate change, they’ll need to consider Maori interests properly, new research warns. Treaty breaches and litigation will follow if they don’t. Carmen Parahi reports.


In Ma¯ ori mythology, the Te Arawa waka hit troubled water as it sailed to Aotearoa. On board, tensions boiled over when Nga¯ toroirangi, the tohunga (high priest), became infuriated by the actions of the captain, Tamatekapu­a. In his anger, Nga¯ toroirangi uttered a powerful incantatio­n and a giant whirlpool appeared, named Te Korokoro o te Parata.

It threatened the waka and the lives of everyone on board, including Kearoa, the wife of Nga¯ toroirangi. On behalf of the people, Kea called out to her husband, pleading to be saved.

He heard her cries, and again uttered a prayer, this time calling for help. A shark arrived to guide them away from the maelstrom and towards Aotearoa.

The story is an inspiratio­n to the Bay of Plenty tribe Te Arawa as it faces the modern storm of climate change. The Te Arawa working group on the issue, called Te Urunga o Kea, is using the role of Kearoa to navigate its people through climate change.

‘‘We’re likening our response to climate change as our response to Te Korokoro o te Parata, to move beyond that challenge and survive,’’ says Te Arawa Lakes Trust environmen­tal manager Nicki Douglas.

‘‘This crisis has the ability to consume us and destroy our way of life as we know it.

‘‘Through our own cultural practices and understand­ing our own resilience, we cannot be consumed by it.’’

The group doesn’t have a mandate. But when tribal members were asked in 2017 to rate their main concerns, water and kai were the top two priorities. Climate change also featured and because of its impact on food and water, the lakes trust responded by setting up Te Urunga o Kea.

Those involved represent the trust, various Te Arawa tribes, health organisati­ons and associated entities including the Te Arawa Primary Sector. Douglas admits they all debate the issues on behalf of their own interests but they have one collective voice. ‘‘The driver is the survival of our whakapapa to ensure future generation­s exist through this crisis.’’

Last year the group received a $98,000 grant from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment Vision Ma¯ tauranga fund to develop a Te Arawa climate change strategy. Douglas says they’ve identified four areas of work to develop further:

■ To prepare their people so they know what to do when natural disasters or hazards occur.

■ Use research, both Western science and ma¯ tauranga (knowledge), to understand climate issues.

■ Educate their people on climate implicatio­ns and how to respond effectivel­y.

■ Provide leadership by connecting with other likeminded organisati­ons and influencin­g change with the Crown and local authoritie­s.

Douglas says Te Arawa will not wait for the Government or local authoritie­s to act for them. ‘‘We will lead our response ourselves,’’ she says. ‘‘We will identify what’s important, what the priorities are for our wha¯ nau, hapu¯ and iwi and our community interests.

‘‘This strategy is to inform what our organisati­ons and individual­s can do to help themselves and each other.’’

As a post-Treaty settlement entity, Te Arawa Lakes Trust has some legal authority over the restoratio­n of the lakes in the Rotorua district.

Douglas says they will try to do what they can themselves to mitigate and adapt to climate change but believes there is an obligation on the Crown, local and regional councils to consult them and provide resources.

Consultati­on between Te Arawa, the Rotorua Lakes Council and Bay of Plenty Regional Council is happening over the restoratio­n of the lakes, she says, but not over climate change.

‘‘The regional council had a meeting to determine whether or not they would declare a climate emergency. They had a number of groups present to them on that day and we were not invited to present.’’

The regional council declared a climate emergency at the end of June.

Douglas says she is frustrated with both councils. ‘‘I’ve met with the [chief executive] and senior managers . . . We outlined our work programme. We talked about what we would be doing.

‘‘We identified we would like some resourcing in the long term plan allocation. What more do you do?’’

Te Arawa has also met with Climate Change Minister James Shaw twice and been invited to meetings with other community groups in the district.

‘‘Primarily they should be engaging with us because we are the Treaty partner,’’ says Douglas.

For its part, the council says the group has been part of early discussion­s on a draft community adaptation strategy.

‘‘We hope to work with the group to build a community education programme that seeks to raise awareness of climate change impacts and provide support to people as they adapt,’’ says environmen­tal strategy manager Stephen Lamb.

‘‘[We] expect this may form a model that will be a basis for further work throughout the region.’’

The decision to declare a climate emergency was not consulted upon because it did not meet the thresholds to do so. The council did, however, consider the implicatio­ns for Ma¯ ori and sought guidance from its own Ma¯ ori constituen­cy councillor­s, Lamb says.

Treaty warning

Environmen­tal law specialist and academic Catherine Iorns has just released the first study on Treaty of Waitangi duties and climate change.

The paper warns councils and the Crown that any adaptation plans for coastal hazards and sea-level rise should include Ma¯ ori interests. If they don’t, there could be Treaty breaches and possible litigation.

At the moment, local and regional councils are making decisions based mainly on the Resource Management Act (RMA) and Local Government Act.

The Waitangi Tribunal has already found the RMA is not fully Treaty compliant, says Iorns. A local council could make a decision that complies with the RMA but still violates Ma¯ ori interests and breaches the Treaty.

‘‘At the moment, local councils are not treated as being liable as Treaty partners; that falls to the Crown.

‘‘Therefore, local councils could be making decisions that create problems for the Crown for modern Treaty breaches.’’

Iorns says councils are having difficulty making climate-related decisions generally but they need to ensure Ma¯ ori interests aren’t forgotten.

The main issue, she says, is the uncertaint­y around the laws of adaptation for councils. To avoid liability the Crown needs to lay out guidelines for how councils make those decisions so they are Treaty compliant. But it hasn’t done that yet.

‘‘Councils need to be adopting best practice and not thinking of minimum level requiremen­ts,’’ says Iorns. ‘‘The law might change in the future and they’ll be liable . . . Councils need to be a bit more alert, . . . to be careful.’’

Matata¯ – The test case

There have been some examples of poor decision-making where Ma¯ ori interests have been neglected, says Iorns. She cites Matata¯ as a case study for how the local council should have acted but didn’t.

In May 2005, severe rainfall triggered several large debris flows into the Awatararik­i, Waitepuru and Ohinekoao stream catchments at Matata¯ . The Awatararik­i flood caused significan­t damage, with an estimated 300,000 cubic metres of silt, logs and boulders destroying land, buildings, road and rail infrastruc­ture.

After years of negotiatio­ns, a decision was finally made to buy out the residents for $15 million, with costs shared between Whakata¯ ne District Council, Bay of Plenty District Council and government. It’s now considered the test case for how councils manage a retreat from the coastline.

‘‘This particular council wasted time, effort and money,’’ says Iorns. If the council had listened to local Ma¯ ori, no-one would have been allowed to build there in the first place. Too often, Iorns says, not only are Ma¯ ori interests dismissed by authoritie­s, so is the ma¯ tauranga Ma¯ ori or traditiona­l knowledge of the area.

‘‘The ma¯ tauranga Ma¯ ori in relation to that area is historical and much more important and scientific than most people would imagine. You don’t live on the flood plains. Ma¯ ori don’t live down there, their marae are up on high ground.’’

Ma¯ tauranga Ma¯ ori

According to one of the local iwi, Nga¯ ti Awa, there are three taniwha in the Awatararik­i stream known as Kiore, Tuna and Tohora¯ . A taniwha in the

form of a lizard also resides in the Waitepuru stream.

In 2018, Dr Daniel Hikuroa from Auckland University published research comparing ma¯ tauranga Ma¯ ori to Western science. He looked at local Ma¯ ori knowledge in Matata¯ .

In his research Hikuroa said: ‘‘The presence of a taniwha is precaution­ary and suggests there is danger associated with the stream.’’

He said ma¯ tauranga Ma¯ ori is mostly ignored or disregarde­d by the science community because it seems to be myth and legend, fantastic and implausibl­e.

But he argued ma¯ tauranga Ma¯ ori uses techniques consistent with the scientific method, but explained according to a Ma¯ ori world view.

‘‘The Ma¯ ori legend was this flooding happens when occasional­ly the lizard flicks its tail and washes everything out from side to side.

‘‘The Waitepuru pu¯ ra¯ kau [traditiona­l story] is simultaneo­usly metaphoric­al and literal; a codified form of knowledge, incorporat­ing geomorphol­ogy with disasterri­sk reduction.’’

Iorns agrees. ‘‘We ignore Ma¯ ori myths and legends at our peril,’’ she says. ‘‘Upholding Ma¯ ori interests, protecting them even where you might not have to under the RMA, is best practice.’’

Stephen Lamb of the Bay of Plenty Regional Council says the council plans this year to roll out ‘‘He Korowai Ma¯ tauranga’’, an internal ma¯ tauranga Ma¯ ori framework which will have a specific climate change work stream. Lamb says the council recognises ma¯ tauranga Ma¯ ori is an elaborate and dynamic knowledge system, especially relevant for climate change impacts and policy.

Legal action

Unimpresse­d by council efforts to date, Te Arawa has started a formal process to force the local councils to work with them on climate change.

Douglas says they have no choice but to undertake a Mana Whakahono a¯ Rohe plan. A legal tool introduced in 2017 under the RMA, it was created to help tangata whenua and local authoritie­s to discuss, agree and record how they will work together.

‘‘If we’re not being heard and due credence given to our issues then there’s no reason why we wouldn’t consider using a legal mechanism to try and achieve an outcome we need,’’ says Douglas.

‘‘We’ve come close on water a couple of times but we’ve managed to navigate our way through that.

‘‘I think sometimes the threat of it is enough.’’

The status of water

For now, Te Urunga o Kea is more interested in finding solutions to climate change. Douglas says the crisis is a community issue so they’ll be trying to work with different groups across the region.

The main issue for Te Arawa is water. The lakes are part of their cultural identity. But the lakes are already being affected by climate change.

‘‘We need to understand the impact of warming, the temperatur­es on our taonga species,’’ says Douglas. ‘‘Does it mean they’re breeding more? Or living longer or shorter life cycles? Understand­ing means we can adapt our interactio­n with them. If we are using them for kai, do we harvest at different times of the year?’’

When Te Arawa gained statutory authority over the lakes, it inherited a legacy of neglect and misuse of the lakes and tributarie­s.

In its Treaty settlement, the

Crown acknowledg­ed the environmen­tal degradatio­n of the lakes had affected their mana (status) and wairua (spirit).

Te Arawa keeps the restoratio­n of the lakes front and centre of work to be done by it, the Rotorua Lakes Council and Bay of Plenty District Council. The tribe also insists on its cultural values being applied to the cleanup of the lakes, particular­ly to uphold the status of the water. Douglas says it’s Ma¯ ori and other community groups with similar values that will help New Zealand mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change. ‘‘Our values are going to inform our future. It’s a frustratio­n of mine they haven’t informed our past as a community.’’

 ?? IAIN McGREGOR/STUFF ?? The challenge to be heard
In Matata¯, local Ma¯ori had for centuries told of three taniwha – suggesting danger – in the Awatararik­i stream. In 2005, the Awatararik­i flooded, causing an estimated 300,000 cubic metres of silt, logs and boulders to destroy land, buildings, road and rail infrastruc­ture.
IAIN McGREGOR/STUFF The challenge to be heard In Matata¯, local Ma¯ori had for centuries told of three taniwha – suggesting danger – in the Awatararik­i stream. In 2005, the Awatararik­i flooded, causing an estimated 300,000 cubic metres of silt, logs and boulders to destroy land, buildings, road and rail infrastruc­ture.
 ??  ?? Catching koura (freshwater crayfish) in Lake Rotorua. Te Arawa Lakes Trust now has some legal authority over the restoratio­n of Rotorua district lakes.
Catching koura (freshwater crayfish) in Lake Rotorua. Te Arawa Lakes Trust now has some legal authority over the restoratio­n of Rotorua district lakes.
 ??  ?? Catherine Iorns
Catherine Iorns
 ??  ?? Nicki Douglas
Nicki Douglas
 ??  ??

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