Ko te wai te ora ngā mea kātoa – Water is the life giver of all things
Māori have a special relationship with wai, most believing that the breath of life exists within all of our waterways and some special waterways have an essence within them that gives wairua (spirit) and mauri (life force).
Many bodies of water are recognised as being of value to not only those holding rangatiratanga of the water body but also those around that area who interact and rely on it. Over 100 whānau in the small beachside community of Tokomaru Bay on the East Coast on of the North Island rely on the Enihau water spring that comes from beneath Marotiri maunga and along the Mangahauini riverbed.
While the supply is maintained by the community, there are political, legislative, and economic challenges that prevent access and rangatiratanga to the water supply. In 2021 Taumata Arowai began its role and powers as the new independent water service regulator for Aotearoa, replacing the responsibilities of the Ministry of Health, under the Water Services Act 2021. The Three Waters reform provides an opportunity for communities like Tokomaru to have their lived experience at the center of these reforms.
Although the community of Tokomaru Bay are expert at conserving water there are many challenges that the community face in the supply of water for basic tasks such as washing, cleaning, and as a secondary water supply.
"Everybody in Aotearoa should be able to get drinking water from the tap knowing that it is safe. We should also be able to swim or gather mahinga kai in our rivers, lakes, or at the beach without fear of becoming sick. We have an obligation to ensure this for current and future generations.” Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta, said.
The water line is managed by the Enihau Water Board, made up of community members, who have to physically check the line on a daily basis, as well as collect water samples that require testing. Once the water sample is taken from the spring, the sample has to be taken 91kms to Gisborne for testing. Testing of the water is at a cost to the community who are connected to the line and maintained by Enihau Water Board.
The water is collected in the plastic water tank that distributes the water through a plastic water line no bigger than the diameter of an aluminum can. The line stretches almost 20 kilometers along ridges to caveats to whānau, kaumātua flats, and the two Marae: Pakirikiri and Waiparapara. Water from the Enihau is on permanent boil notice, meaning the water must be boiled for consumption.
Flooding to the area at the beginning of the year damaged the water line resulting in the replacement of 10 kilometers of line. These types of activities impact the supply to whānau, who at times are having to pay for water to be brought in via trucks, costs that are challenging for some of our most vulnerable whānau. Especially those who are impacted by chronic illness and disease.
There is a desire and need for the community to have rangatiratanga over their relationship with the wai. Upholding the whakapapa, our genealogical relationship to an intimate interdependency with the wai. The return of our fluency in the communication of the awa, and responsiveness to the needs of our wai.
The means of achieving this vision will require those same political, legislative, economic, and educational tools. Within this vision rests the requirements for us to uphold our mana and ancestral spaces.
There is an opportunity for our local Councils and system players to lean into mātauranga Māori practices that continue to empower and support our community without the financial burden and restricted access to their natural resources.
We know that Iwi and hapu already utilise the skills that were left behind by our tipuna. With the support, they can inform their own uptake, and application of modern technology to maintain our autonomy over our natural resources.
How might this vision be supported by local and central government?