SPEECH IN THE HOUSE - Marama Fox: Te Pire o Te Awa Tupua (mō Te Whakataunga o Ngā Kerēme e pa ana ki te Awa o Whanganui)

Marama Fox, Māori Party Co-Leader

Te Pire o Te Awa Tupua (mō Te Whakataunga o Ngā Kerēme e pa ana ki te Awa o Whanganui)


7 December 2016




To watch the speech click here


To understand who maintains the mana of the Whanganui River, one must return to its source to hear the ancient verse:

Pūhaina Tongariro; E rere nei Whanganui

Ko te wai inu tēnā, O Ruatipua i mua e”.


The wisdom of the river is found through two primary tupuna: Ruatipua and Paerangi-i-tewharetoka.

Ngā wai inuinu o Ruatipua ēnā

Ngā manga iti, ngā manga nui e honohono kau ana

Ka hono, ka tupu, hei awa

Hei Awa Tupua


To many New Zealanders, a connection to our rivers is a treasured part of our identity.  It reminds us of summers gone by; of recreation and pleasure; childhood memories; adventures on rapids.

But to the people who fill our galleries today, there is something more.

A river runs through their veins; a river of whakapapa; of sacred significance; a river that brings together the genealogies and legacies of a people who have swum, washed, played, prayed, dived, paddled, and travelled te awa tupua as the central artery of their tribal heart.

The people are drawn to the river to cleanse and purify, to bless and heal, or to give strength and resolve. For Te Kuia Peeti, while growing up, the river was ‘the life-blood of my life’. It had a wairua, she contended, that healed, purified, and sustained.

Today then, marks a significant day because it recognizes the significance of the dual ownership of this spiritual connection to te awa tupua; an ownership located in two key principles: 

  • Te Awa Tupua mai i te Kāhui Maunga ki Tangaroa — an integrated view of Te Awa Tupua from the mountains to the sea; and

  • Ko au te awa, ko te awa ko au — the health and wellbeing of the Whanganui River is intrinsically interconnected with the health and wellbeing of the people.

Mr Speaker, e ngā iwi o Whanganui, we are truly making history. 

This will be the first time that this nation has by legal definition recognised the Whanganui River - Te Awa Tupua - as a legal identity, reflecting ‘an indivisible and living whole.

That history we make today reflects the courage of those champions of the Wai 167 claim, the late Hikaia Amohia, the late Sir Archie John Te Atawhai Taiaroa, the late Joan Akapita, the late Rangipo Metekingi and the late Michael Potaka; Linda Henry, Julie Ranginui, Kevin Amohia and John Maihi.

But it is a history which stretches way beyond any other settlement legislation that has ever been heard in this House. 

WAI 167, tabled on 14 October 1990, was the latest in over a century of petition and submission dating back to 1887, when Pauro Tutaawha and 66 others petitioned Parliament complaining that steamers were destroying their fisheries and eel weirs.   Their legacy is today with us in every word.

The whakataukī I spoke of earlier refers to the drinking fonts of Ruatipua; the small and large streams which flow into one another and continue to link, and swell, until a river is formed; Te Awa Tupua.

At this second reading, one can truly feel the river flowing through the submissions we heard and the synergy created by many voices coming together as one.   One of the truly awe-inspiring features of this bill is to bring so many often contrary voices into one unified chorus.

We heard from the Mayors and Chief Executives of Whanganui, Ruapehu and Stratford District Council; and Horizons Regional Council.   They told us of the willingness of local government to work collaboratively with Whanganui iwi, with the Crown, with each other, and with communities in giving effect to the Bill.  Collectively they welcomed the innovative nature of the Bill, particularly the river as an entity represented by Te Pou Tupua.

The Quaker Settlement told us that it was truly significant to have formal recognition of the Whanganui iwi’s world view at the heart of the Te Awa Tupua Bill. They encouraged us to remember that the promises of Te Tiriti o Waitangi set out an expectation of co-existence and ‘living together, differently’, and the foundation of a plural society. We were told that we now have the opportunity to make this shared quest a lived reality.

The New Zealand Conservation Authority promoted the value system of Te Awa Tupua as being able to inform and strengthen the collaborative management of the National Park as a living cultural landscape.

Ngāti Rangi Trust celebrated the fact that once enacted into law, the Te Awa Tupua settlement will, in their view, set a new global benchmark for the collaboration of Crown, Tangata Whenua and stakeholders in the restoration and preservation of significant waterways.    They concluded that they looked forward to supporting their Whāngani iwi relations in the years ahead to bring to life the aspirations of their many pahake who have fought for the Awa over countless generations.

Horizons’ told the Select Committee that their relationship with Whanganui iwi has ebbed and flowed over time and as the settlement of the Whanganui River has developed, so too has the relationship.  They told us that the Bill speaks to the aspirations of not only Whanganui iwi, but also the communities that interconnect with the River, and provides a strong mechanism to ensure that the mana of Te Awa Tupua is upheld and enhanced.

These are but a selection of the thirty of so multiple voices singing as one to advance Te Piri o Te Awa Tupua.

Mr Speaker it is important that we acknowledge the sacrifice and suffering of Whanganui iwi who have endured the sustained misuse and exploitation of their ancestral waters over several decades.  

Fourteen Whanganui chiefs signed the Treaty of Waitangi in May 1840, and since that time, the Crown has systematically undermined Whanganui iwi rights and interests in the management and use of the Whanganui River.   That history will never be erased or forgotten.  

But today marks a significant turn in the tide; a new opportunity to change the 'lens' through which people interact with and make decisions affecting Te Awa Tupua.

The kuia, Julie Ranginui, told the Tribunal in 1994, The river for me is like my mother, is like my father. The river is my grandfather, my grandmother, it’s my tupuna.

In Schedule 8 of the Bill we are introduced to more than 240 identified ripo (rapids); their names protected and maintained by the hapū associated with each of those ripo between Taumarunui and the mouth of the River.   We recall the connections to some 143 marae once vibrant communities that shaped the river life; a life still cherished by their descendants.

The people of the awa hold that each ripo of the Whanganui River is inhabited by a kaitiaki (spiritual guardian), which is particular to each hapū. Each of these kaitiaki is a mouri and is responsible for maintaining the lifeforce; the health and well-being of the Whanganui River and its people.

The iwi and the hapū and whānau of Whanganui look to these kaitiaki for guidance in times of joy, despair, or uncertainty for the guidance and insight they can provide.   The sacred lineage; the intimate connection between the river and its people is perhaps heard most vividly in the kōrero left us by the kuia Dardanella Metekingi.  She told the Tribunal in 1994,

The awa is a beautiful thing. You need the people. It lives with the people. The spirit of the awa has to be the people. It’s not a separate thing. It’s part of who you are - like a soul partner. Sharing everything with you, and it gives it back to you.

I have had the great privilege of travelling the river; of being able to feel and become immersed in the generosity of spirit of Te Awa Tupua; to begin to appreciate the meaning of ko au te awa, ko te awa ko au.

And as I sat gliding through those sacred waters, I knew then, as I will never forget, the power and force of the association summarised by eloquently by the late Niko Tangaroa:

The river and the land and its people are inseparable. And so if one is affected, the other is affected also. The river is the heartbeat, the pulse of our people. Without the Awa we are nothing, and therefore I am reminded of the korero when one of our elders Taitoko Tawhiri said of the River, if the Awa dies we die as a people. Ka mate te Awa, ka mate tatou te Iwi.

Today, Mr Speaker, we have a chance to restore te awa tupua to its life-giving essence; and in doing so; to gift back to the people their rightful obligations and responsibilities to the river that runs through their veins.

The Māori Party is proud, and indeed humbled, to support this bill; respecting the vision; the generosity and the remarkable persistence of all those who have brought this legislation to our nation.

Authorised by Susan Cullen, 5 Gala Street, Waihōpai