Water As Taonga: Water Is Taonga? • SAMAQAN: Water Stories (Series 4)

Water As Taonga: Water Is Taonga? • SAMAQAN: Water Stories (Series 4)

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Marianne Jones and Jeff Bear travel from Canada’s west coast to New Zealand where they meet with Maori leaders. The Maori explain the sacred relationship they have with water. Their migration to New Zealand in the 13th century predated that of settlers, or “infinite others” as the Maori call them, by 500 years.

In New Zealand’s founding document, the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi, the Maori were granted rights for control of land, water and self-determination. Even so, many of these rights have not been respected. As is often the case, the problem is with language, as two ancient legal systems talk past each other. It is only through legal arguments based on water as “taonga,” a precious cultural treasure, that the Maori have had success in the courts. The documentary describes their ongoing battle to enforce treaty rights granted in 1840.

As a footnote, on March 15, 2017, the Maori of the North Island in New Zealand achieved a world first victory in the courts after a 140-year legal battle. The New Zealand Government granted the Whanganui River—known as Te Awa Tupua to the local Maori people and the third largest river in New Zealand--the legal status of a person.

It marked a settlement for the longest litigation in New Zealand’s history, which began with the signing of the violated Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. It gives the river the power to represent its own interests and advocate on its own behalf. It will be represented by two nominees—one appointed by the Maori community, or Iwi, and one appointed by the government.

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