Te Awa Tupua - The Whanganui River Claim
The Whanganui River extends from New Zealand’s central volcanic plateau to the Tasman Sea and is New Zealand’s longest navigable river. It is the central spiritual entity for Whanganui iwi who refer to it as Te Awa Tupua and who have persistently maintained their right to have authority over and guardianship of the river.
Whanganui Iwi concerns for the health and spiritual integrity of the river which is intimately linked with the health and wellbeing of their people began to be voiced with petitions to the New Zealand parliament in 1883 and were followed up with court actions and negotiation with the Crown (New Zealand Government) that has continued to the present day.
The original Whanganui River Claimants,
Back row from left, Kaiwhare Kiriona, Tanginoa Tapa, Tekiira Peina, Tonga Tume, Hohepa Hekenui, Henare Keremeneta, Middle Row: Te Rama Whanarere, Hekenui Whakarake, DGB Morrison, Titi Tihu, Ponga Awhikau. Front row: Taka i te Iwa Anderson, Kahukiwi Whakarake
Whanganui Iwi leader Hikaia Amohia had this to say about the damage that pollution was causing to the river:
“My people personified the River as an entity allied to our ancestors
with the spirit or taniwha of the River, a personification of the spirit
of the River. Those who cast pollution on to the spirit of the River
are casting it on to the spirit of my people.”
The Wai 167 claim to the Waitangi Tribunal was filed by Hikaia Amohia and the members of the Whanganui River Maori Trust Board on behalf of Whanganui Iwi on 14 October 1990. The claim included, among other things, claims in respect of the Whanganui River and was pursued for the benefit of all who affiliate to Whanganui Iwi. The parts of the Wai 167 claim relating to the Whanganui River were heard by the Waitangi Tribunal in 1994 and the Tribunal issued its Whanganui River Report in 1999.
The Waitangi Tribunal found among other things that the acts of the Crown in removing Whanganui Iwi possession and control of the Whanganui River and its tributaries, and its omission to protect the rangatiratanga of Whanganui Iwi in and over the River were and are contrary to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi and that Whanganui Iwi continue to be prejudiced as a result of the Crown’s actions.
Since those findings were made Whanganui iwi has continued to seek resolution with the crown for and on behalf of the Whanganui River. The Whanganui River Maori Trust Board acting for the iwi negotiated a “Record of Understanding” that was signed with the crown on 13 October 2011 and on the 30th of August 2012 the “Tūtohu Whakatupua” agreement was signed between Whanganui Iwi and the Crown that represented their joint commitment to progress the settlement of the historical claim.
Among the arrangements within “Tūtohu Whakatupua” is the recognition of the Whanganui River as Te Awa Tupua, a single entity from source to mouth including its tributaries and the bed of the river and the unprecedented recognition of Te Awa Tupua as a legal entity in its own right.
1. Te Awa o Whanganui Timeline1849 to 2004
2. The Whanganui River Report – Waitangi Tribunal Report 1999
3. Whanganui River Māori Trust Board