Washington International Law Journal


Jacinta Ruru


Water is important to all peoples, including indigenous peoples. In recent years, the government in Aotearoa, New Zealand has utilized various cultural redress-type legal mechanisms to recognize and revive the importance of water to the Maori people’s identity, health, and wellbeing. These mechanisms create revolutionary modern opportunities for Maori to participate in the decision-making of how specific waters are used and protected. In particular, the negotiated agreements for the Te Arawa Lakes, and the Waikato, Waipa, and Whanganui rivers are studied in this article as prominent examples of how the government has agreed to, for example, co-management regimes. With the government working with Maori to resolve water claims, why–in 2012–have the government and many Maori come head-to-head about Maori rights to water, to the extent that urgent proceedings in the Waitangi Tribunal and now the High Court have been called? Part of the explanation lies in the government’s tactics for reconciliation, which focus on cultural redress solutions that concentrate on management opportunities. To date, the Government has refused to address possible Maori commercial and proprietary redress for water even though it is something that many Maori want resolved. This 2012 clash has starkly illustrated that despite the creation of several notable cultural redress water settlements, real reconciliation in a decolonized context will remain elusive until fair, complete, and holistic restitution for water grievances is offered across all redress spectrums, including cultural, commercial, and proprietary.

First Page