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Alarm at ‘removal’ of Maori land rights

Wairarapa Moana Inc. [WMI] has made a submission on the government’s Spatial Planning Bill and Natural and Built Environment Bill, with concerns about the perceived removal of Maori landowners’ rights.

The submission – made on March 6 by WMI general manager Anaru Smiler – says the business is concerned that, as currently drafted, under both the Spatial Planning Bill and the Natural and Built Environment Bill, only “iwi and hapu” have rights and responsibilities in relation to taiao [natural resources].

Smiler said the Natural and Built Environment Bill was a backward step in its use of the less inclusive term “iwi and hapu” in place of “Maori”.

“Wairarapa Moana Incorporation would go as far as to say the draft Natural and Built Environment Bill removes the existing rights of Maori landowners.”

He said there were many other examples of how the Bills “invisibilised” rights held by ahi ka [landowners], whanau, and urban Maori.

“We think there is a better way forward that is more inclusive. Wairarapa Moana Incorporation asks that the Environment Committee change the primary reference terms in the Bills for Maori rights and responsibilities holder to ‘mana whakahaere’.”

Smiler said WMI supported the inclusion of the te ao Maori [Maori worldview] concept, Te Oranga o te Taiao.

“However, if we are going to utilise te ao Maori concepts in legislation, then it is important we get it right.”

He said te Taiao was integrated with economic, social, and cultural values that were interdependent with ecosystem health.

“It is not just the natural environment.”

Smiler pointed out there was no requirement in the Natural and Built Environment Bill to set sustainable limits to ensure the protection of ecosystems.

Complexity “at place” needs to be recognised and accommodated, not ignored in a way that diminishes the rangatiratanga of some Maori rights holders, for the Crown’s own purposes, he said.

“These Bills do not achieve that.”

Smiler said there should be a hierarchy of obligations within the bills that prioritise the health of the ecosystem first, and the health needs of people second, followed by social, economic, and cultural wellbeing.

“As kaitiaki of our whenua, like other farmers, growers, and communities, we are all on a journey to improve our environmental management,” Smiler said.

“As kaitiaki, we aim to leave our whenua and taonga in a better state than we found them for the next generation and the generations after that. We have always been and remain committed to this outcome.”

Grace Prior
Grace Prior
Grace Prior is a senior reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with a keen interest in environmental issues. Grace is the paper’s health reporter and regularly covers the rural sector, weather, Greater Wellington Regional Council, and coastal stories.

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