Friday, 15 November 2013

Ahipara: a meeting at Gumdigger's Cafe

It took me two days to get down to Ahipara from Hukatere Road  on my slightly improved feet. I went over to the Gumdigger's Cafe and drank about ten cups of tea and tried to get in touch with Catherine Davis who I had been in contact with before my trip started. I wanted to ask her about the local Iwi groups' positions on irrigation and intensive agriculture in the area. Catherine is of Te Rarawa and Ngati Kuri ancestry and I wanted to speak to her about local iwi views on land use and water quality in the far north. The staff at Gumdigger's helped me to get hold of her and she headed to the cafe.

Wetland area at the mouth of the Wairoa stream in Ahipara

While I was waiting, another local, Dave Rawiri, asked me about my business there as he had watched the proceedings with interest. I got talking to him about the local area and he related a similar account to that of the DOC officer that I had spoken to up on the beach. "We're totally opposed to what they're doing up here." was his response when I asked him about intensification of agriculture in the far north. "They've got it all wrong!" Dave looked to be in his forties and said that when he was a child he remembers that the streams and creeks up on the beach had still been flourishing. It was once easy to fish for eel in most of the streams on the beach but since the large tracts of forestry had come to dominate the dune areas, the creeks had shrunk and in many cases dried up altogether. "In another twenty to thirty years it'll be a desert up there!" I had certainly noticed areas where it seemed there used to be a waterway extending out from the land to the sea but now there is no fresh water flowing at all.

Presently, Catherine Davis arrived, a woman who is passionate about preserving the many taonga, or treasures that the local people feel guardianship (kaitiakitanga) for. Catherine is a Treaty Claims Settlement Negotiator for the Ngati Kuri Trust. Her pride in being Maori was evident not only in the nature of her korero (conversation) but also from the moko kauae (chin tattoo) that she wore. Unfortunately my phone had died when I was trying to get in touch with Catherine so I wasn't able to get a picture. We talked at length about what some concerns were for local Maori. Catherine expressed growing unease about the proposed changes to the Resource Management Act that stood to intensify agriculture in the area further, with little regard for environmental concerns. "We want a moratorium on allocating water for commercial use."

Houses at the mouth of the Wairoa Stream on Ahipara beach

With specific regard to fresh water she said: The Tangonge wetland was of particular importance as it had historically been one of the most important mahinga kai of Te Rarawa and Ngai Takoto iwi. Catherine stressed the need for a more sustainable model of agriculture for the north in which Maori can be actively involved. She also stressed the need for feeding people in the traditional modes of gathering from the natural resources available. People once procured food, water and natural medicines from wetland areas but in her view, this capacity had been drastically reduced due to habitat destruction of many species.

Catherine was optimistic that things could improve saying that the Tangonge had been drained but there are now plans to restore this taonga. Since 1991 The Ngati Kuri, Ngati Wai, Te Rarawa, Ngati Kahungunu, Ngati Porou and Ngati Koata iwi have had a pending self determination claim under the treaty of Waitangi known as the flora and fauna claim or Wai 262. This claim has many aims but most importantly to the groups involved, it would recognise and protect the cultural and intellectual heritage rights in relation to indigenous flora and fauna. 

In New Zealand we all need to realise that we are guardians of the natural resources around us and it is up to all of us to protect these resources from unsustainable exploitation in order that they might be preserved for future generations. In addition to this, all elements of an ecosystem are important whether or not they have a direct benefit for humans. 

To gain further Maori perspective on the importance of protecting freshwater ecosystems read here.

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