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Kaitiakitanga Apr 2006

A Chance to Prove that Kaitiakitanga is an

Alternative to Marine Reserves

By Rendt Gorter

5 April 2006


This article was originally published in the Barrier Bulletin April 2006

The good turnout at Motairehe marae showed the importance given by the tangata whenua to the issue of the proposed marine reserve. And also Pakeha from the island community found themselves on both sides of the powhiri that began the hui . The manuhiri that were welcomed were led by a group of Ministry of Fisheries staff. They had come from Wellington and Auckland for a long-planned consultation meeting to be held independently in the last stage of the DoC application for a marine reserve at the northern end of Great Barrier Island.

"We are here to listen openly to the views of tangata whenua " Stan Crothers, the deputy Chief Executive of MFish, said as soon as he had a chance to speak. He introduced himself, as the other 30 attendants had also done, by talking of his personal background and reasons for coming here. Thirty years with MFish and still passionate about managing fish, he explained. Shortly afterwards, one of the tangata whenua , commercial fisher Brian Pearson confirmed that. As one-time enforcement officer with the Ministry, twenty years ago Pearson had gotten to know Crothers as a credible superior.

And credibility appeared to be in need, as a number of speakers stood up and expressed lack of faith with the government processes, and the Department of Conservation in particular. Rawiri Wharemate tried to explain that this reflected a generally poor experience with government agencies not carrying out open-minded consultation but purely following obligatory procedures to 'tick the box'.

"There is a lack of trust. Tangata whenua have a traditional kaitiakitanga role, a care taker role for natural resources. If you are here as a partner – try us. We want to talk, we want conservation, we also want power to develop own self-reliance. Let's see if we can find trust in each other's belief systems."

From the outset the men and women that stood up put the marine reserve into the local context. "On a map of New Zealand it is just a drop, but to us it is huge,' Mathew Ngawaka, a commercial fisher said. Another added that, 'Because of its location, there are fish one cannot get easily elsewhere and then only in the fishing grounds of others, making us feel like thieves if we go over there.' Hapuka and the stories of fishing for them, symbolised this well to several present.

"Why should we here, on Great Barrier Island, be punished for the commercial over-fishing by foreign operators that the government has allowed in New Zealand waters?" asked Don Ngawaka.

Scott Mabey, who lives adjacent to the proposed reserve area, saw himself unequivocally as tangata whenua in this issue. "We do not fish for fun but to put food on the table," he said. "That's not for recreation, but basically customary fishing. A marine reserve here, will just put more pressure on other areas."

"It is just unnecessary, since alternative tools are available to achieve sustainable management." he added." Several others made reference to proposals to DoC for alternative reserve areas or customary management, mataitai , but without having received a sense that they were seriously considered.

Other Pakeha were there also to make the point that the message to the Ministry of Fisheries would come not simply from Maori but from those concerned about how government marine resource management was disadvantaging non-commercial fishers. "I am here to express support for the tangata whenua opposing the marine reserve and being excluded from their kaitiakitanga role." Scott Macindoe said, a previous resident with on-going connections to the island, and speaking from the option4 perspective, an interest group active on behalf of Pakeha and Maori non-commercial fishers.

The term kaitiakitanga , at least in the words of the RMA, describes the exercise of guardianship by the tangata whenua of an area in accordance with tikanga Maori in relation to natural and physical resources; and includes the ethic of stewardship.

But it was not only about fish that would no longer be available. "I find it outrageous, that we even have to stand here and defend our right, and most importantly, the right of our children and their children, to do what has been part of our upbringing," said Martin Cleave, an Auckland-based film producer. As the head negotiator for marine reserves on GBI, mandated by tangata whenua, he presented extracts from a detailed submission he had prepared for the Ministry.

Cleave questioned the assessment of 'customary fishing' as something that could be reduced to figures and then leaving it open to interpretation by the Ministry. "If you want to know how much fish we take, then I would tell you: Enough." He concluded by saying: " This marine reserve application as it stands, alienates tangata whenua from it's rohe moana and our ability to exercise our most fundamental rights and obligations as rangatiratanga and kaitiakitanga ."

It was clear that a lot of emotions had been provoked which challenged the MFish team to translate that into the fair assessment that Crothers had explained was the purpose of their visit: evaluating the potential impact to customary fishing as guaranteed by the Treaty of Waitangi and the Fisheries Settlement Act, also known as the Sealords Deal. In a final statement, Crothers attempted to sum this up: "I heard speakers today express a sense that the proposed marine reserve is stealing the very essence of what it means to be tangata whenua ." Afterwards, he said that it is planned to have completed a formal briefing to the minister by June. "This Concurrence Advice Paper will also be available to the public," Crothers emphasised. "After that it is a judgement call by the Minister, which may or may not be made immediately."

Sonya Williams, the newly appointed chairperson of the Ngati Rehua ki Aotea Trust, had prepared some words to close the hui and to sum up the views expressed by kaumatua and other speakers. It came back to fundamental responsibilities of rangatiritanga and kaitiakitanga, related to self-determination, sovereignty over natural resources and taking care of the interests of future generations, she explained. "There are alternatives to marine reserves. We are asking for chance to work together to prove that kaitiakitanga can be the best practice."


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