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Pacific Ecologist

"I gave you my bucket and spade, now you want the whole sandpit"

Stormy seas erode land around her house, but for ANGELINE GREENSILL the government's current foreshore/seabed proposals, are more damaging, amounting to legislative theft. Inherent racism in denying Maori rights over their own land must be rejected to save Aotearoa from many years of conflict and bitter litigation.

I sit in my house in the dunes, listening to the soothing call of Tangaroa, and Hinemoana as they move back and forth, lapping over what remains of my front lawn. Barely a year ago, Tane, Tangaroa and Tawhirimatea engaged in one of their frequent duels each attempting to exert power over the others domain. When their energies were spent, over twenty metres of our tribal land had exchanged places and become part of the foreshore and seabed.

My hapu and those who live close to the sea, are used to living with and responding to the ever-changing moods of our Atua, treating such occurrences as natural events to be expected but not necessarily condoned. Our response is swift, and mimicking the behaviour of Tane's eyebrows, the pingao and spinafex, my father begins working with Tawhirimatea and Hinemoana, rebuilding and reshaping our whenua in readiness for the next onslaught which will come on the next high tide.

We respect our environment and affirm our rights on a daily basis, by making decisions, establishing and enforcing our own tikanga or laws according to what is correct and what is right for us and for the place we have inherited from our ancestors. We rest and restore degraded places, we impose rahui and plant kai. By carrying out these practices we ensure that current generations and those about to be born are provided for and equipped with the knowledge and skills required to carry out their roles as tangata manaaki when we have ceased to physically exist. We allow strangers to drive through our land to the beach to enjoy its healing qualities and to experience a peace often lacking in the urban spaces they normally occupy.

Official agencies contaminate Tangaroa

Although over the past 30 years, we have advised territorial authorities that their activities are objectionable and unacceptable to us, our words however have fallen on deaf ears as they continue discharging wastewater into Tangaroa's home. Central government is no better. They have not listened to us but embarked on a journey that clearly leads to our place, not with the intention of sharing our place, but of taking it from us. This turnaround by a government supported by Maori at the last election, is reminiscent of the behaviour which lead to the 1984 reforms which saw the country restructured and public utilities privatised.

The impetus for this recent behaviour goes back to 1997. At that time Ngati Apa and other hapu and iwi from Te Tau Ihu o Te Waka a Maui were dissatisfied with the way aquaculture was being managed in their area. They asked the Maori land court to consider whether the foreshore and seabed of the Marlborough Sounds was Maori customary land. The court agreed but the decision was appealed to the Maori Appellate court and then referred on to the High Court who ruled that customary property was extinguished when the adjacent land lost its customary status. Ngati Apa took a case to the Court of Appeal.

On 19 June 2003, the five judges on the Court of Appeal unanimously ruled that: "...the seabed and foreshore is "land" for the purposes of s129(1) of Te Ture Whenua Maori Act 1993." Chief Justice Elias went on to say: " I consider that an investigation and grant of coastal land cannot extinguish any property held under Maori custom in lands below high water mark. Whether there are such properties is a matter for the Maori Land Court to investigate in the first instance as a question of tikanga."

Next day, Prime Minister Helen Clark informed the country steps would: "be taken to confirm absolute Crown title over the foreshore...." She was supported in this by Attorney General Margaret Wilson who on June 22 claimed:

"Ownership of the foreshore and seabed has long been considered to lie with the Crown." The government also stated: "The foreshore and seabed are areas of public domain, where all New Zealanders are able to enjoy open access and use..."the foreshore and seabed should not be subject to private rights of ownership."
While the government promised to protect public access and customary rights it indicated that rights tangata whenua had could no longer be determined in the same way through the Maori Land Court. Those privileged enough to have a general title to their lands were to be exempted from the confiscation being meted out on tangata whenua.

Tangata whenua have endured a lifetime of confronting unjust laws exercised in total conflict with our tikanga, and yet we have managed to survive because of our enduring relationships with our place, our atua and with each other. We know this is our land and that we have obligations to act in the best interests of everyone who shares it with us. The government however has decided that territorial authorities will be the managers of our spaces thereby impacting upon our relationship with our Atua and taonga. While te Tiriti o Waitangi affirmed,tino rangatiratanga or absolute authority over our taonga and ourselves, it also paved the way for a collaborative approach to managing our country and environment. The Labour government by imposing its preference, continues to ignore this simple fact.

Changing the law to suit government

Like the playground bully, the government has stepped in and decided what will happen without discussion. It is not interested in what we think having already made up its mind. The pathetic consultation round, held midweek in isolated marae at short notice would be laughable if it were not so serious. The government has assumed it can treat us as if we don't exist with impunity, ignoring our rights to make decisions over what is our's. While all parties in government promote one law for all, in this instance, when the law found in favour of Maori, the government promptly announced they would change the law.

Such treatment of tangata whenua in the 21st century can no longer be justified. Policies which interfere with inherited relationships and cultural practices, and which extinguish our rights through legal sophistry need to be challenged and resisted. The government however, as the highest court in the land has invented four principles, certainty, regulation, access and protection, as the foundation for its proposed legislative changes, which if implemented will extinguish Maori rights.


In terms of certainty, our rights and obligations to the foreshore and seabed are preserved in our mokopuna through whakapapa. We are certain that if our relationship and rights are recognised and affirmed, then those rights, currently enjoyed by all New Zealanders, the right to kick off their shoes and feel the healing powers of Papamoana and Tangaroa, will also be ensured. But in allowing others to continue to share our places, we reserve the right to monitor its use and if necessary to educate people to respect our place in the same way that we do. Our Kohanga Reo pre-school children should not have to spend their time continuously cleaning up after people who have no idea how to interact with the moana in a responsible and respectful way. We know that we as tangata whenua will always be here, and are just as certain that governments come and go at the whim of the people.


The government has decided that local authorities - who in our experience never monitor their own performance - will regulate the use of these areas. Why? Aren't we, who have been regulating, educating, and caring for our adjacent foreshore and seabed since time immemorial, the most obvious people to carry out this role? While we work to protect our environment from abuse, our Council continues to disrespectfully discharge wastewater and stormwater into Tangaroa, with impunity.


While the government has decided people will have access through our lands, we say access to the foreshore and seabed is a privilege and at our discretion, according to tikanga Maori. Why does the farmer, owning 15 km of foreshore in the next harbour, not have to allow us access to our traditional land and gathering places? This legislation instead of actively protecting our rights as people, discriminates against us, for it is access through Maori land and through some government council lands which will be entrenched in this policy, not access through private property.


The final principle, protection of our foreshore and seabed for present and future mokopuna is something Maori have always done. Given successive governments' performance over the past 20 years and inability to act honourably, we cannot trust them to protect the foreshore and seabed. Globalisation promotes exploitation of people and resources. If the government can take away Maori rights and give itself the title, then it is more likely as the owner to be tempted to sell off space and the taonga embedded in Papamoana to the highest bidder. The only way to protect our foreshore and seabed from unnecessary global exploitation is for Maori to retain what we have always had collectively, our whanau and hapu relationships to our environment.

Reject inherent cultural genocide

Clearly visible in the implementation of the government's policy is a plan that seeks to destroy the relationship tangata whenua have enjoyed for generations. Cultural genocide, inherent in this confiscatory policy dreamed up by this Labour government is not an option.

Like a schoolyard bully, Helen Clark and her Labour government have marched into our playground, grabbed our bucket and spade and tried to kick us out of our own sandpit. Unfortunately such behaviour is not new. In 1840 when our ancestors signed te Tiriti o Waitangi, the 66 million acres making up our country was clearly under the jurisdiction of hapu. Since then legislative theft, wars, and confiscations have reduced us to tenants in our own land. In 1996 only 3,743,689 acres (1,515.071 hectares) of Maori land remained in Maori hands. Of this, 10.35% is said to be coastal Maori freehold land abutting an area the government has earmarked "public domain." It is this area they intend by the stroke of the pen to steal from tangata whenua.

Discriminatory, racist policy

The fact that the bulk of the foreshore and seabed is not subject to this thieving policy is lost on the New Zealand public who are unaware that the land that will be made available by the government's proposed policy as public domain is primarily only land held now by the whanau and hapu who inherited it. No debate pointing out the inherent racism and discriminatory nature of the government's proposed actions has yet taken place. Rights affirmed under te Tiriti o Waitangi and other international conventions have been totally ignored.

While the government controls access to over 70% of the coastline, its lockup mentality, ensures only certain endangered species can enjoy and interact with such places. The 20.05% that is the private property of farmers, millionaires and foreign landowners is to be left alone for the time being, for to turn this into public domain would be to challenge the very foundation of British law, the right to own property.

Unfortunately Maori people have had a second class title issued by the Native and Maori Land Courts for generations. These titles are now said to be subordinate to the certificates of title general landowners hold and are therefore considered dispensable. So it's a cheap option for the government to relieve Maori of their taonga guaranteed as their's under te Tiriti o Waitangi, whether they agree or not. For the country, the costs will be immeasurable as yet another grievance is created. Current generations instead of looking forward to a shared future will once again become the playthings of politicians, divided by opinions being moulded and influenced by misleading media statements and innate racism.

Waitangi Tribunal urgent hearing

It's unfortunate the public was unaware of the Waitangi Tribunal hearings held in Wellington during the summer holidays. The urgent hearing into the Foreshore and Seabed issue, clearly showed the flawed level of the government's proposals. For example, at one stage, a Crown lawyer, who used the word "sustainable" frequently during his presentation to the Tribunal, under cross-examination agreed that to meet the government's proposals, iwi, whanau and hapu would need to be redefined as "corporate entities;" also, customary rights, he declared, would need to be defined by government, or Crown. The farcical, as well as insulting nature of his utterances was lost on the Crown lawyer. Poorly regulated corporate behaviour in the free-market era, has proven to be highly unsustainable both environmentally for the planet and for people.

Since 1990 there have been persistent attempts by the Crown to encourage hapu and iwi to reject their own fluid organizational structures based on tikanga and to adopt corporate entities confined within the framework of New Zealand trust, incorporation and company law. These entities are more likely to be focused on resource exploitation and economic gain for shareholders rather then on maintaining customary environmental ethics and practices which will ensure a healthy environment for our mokopuna yet unborn. It was also informative when Mr Prebble, senior policy advisor, told the Tribunal he would meet his deadline and ensure a bill would be ready to be introduced into the house in March or April this year irrespective of the findings of the Tribunal.

The Waitangi Tribunal heard a wealth of information from individuals, whanau and hapu. While New Zealanders have been misled into believing that most Maori are interested in being compensated in monetary terms for loss of development rights and opportunities, those of us from whanau and hapu who attended were focussed more on the impacts of this policy on our relationship with our coastal places and with our various Atua. The eloquence of Sean Ellison is worth sharing:

"The foreshore is a sacred space, our place of prayer, our church. Ranginui in the heavens above is the roof, and Papatûânuku is the foundation and the floor. It is where we sense and feel the divine presence of all the gods and spiritual influences at all times. Although it is a place of leisure, and a storehouse of food, certain areas are held in particular reverence, and as such are set aside for certain purposes. When I step onto the beach I feel the presence of Tâwhirimâtea in the gentle breezes and buffeting winds, of Hineuamairangi in the soft caress of light showers, of Te Ihorangi in the full, unadulterated, cleansing power of driving rain, of Hinepûkohurangi in the protective embrace of the mist, of Tamanuiterâ in the warmth of the sun, of Hina te marama in the illumination of the moonlight, of Urutengangana in the conversations and energy plays of the stars, and of Hurumanu in the many voices of the seabirds. I remove my footware and the soles of my feet sense the presence of Papatûânuku, my sacred mother, of Tangaroa, of the seas and the oceans and the waters, of Hinewainui and Hinemoana, as I recall that all things have both masculine and feminine aspects and qualities, of Rakahore, whose children the rocks and boulders have accumulated countless stories over eons of time, of Hinetûâkirikiri as the gravel and pebbles lightly massage the energy points of my feet, of Hineone whose sands collect the warmth of the sun, and of Tâne and Hinewao, in the trees and the bush and the forest.

"The soles of my feet affectionately stroke and massage the sand, the rocks, the pebbles and the grass, in the knowledge that all of creation has its own life essence, and that we are all related. We are related in the divine oneness of the universe, and we are related through our mutual descent from Ranginui of the heavens above, and Papatûânuku of the earth below. I sense the vibrations from our many relations throughout the universe, and I am energised and further enlightened. Here are some of our sacred spaces set aside for special purposes, our sacred rocks, our sacred trees, our places where we follow the example of our ancestors in giving thanks and offering prayers to the divine, and the resting places of our ancestors. These are the areas on which our ancestors walked, that felt the touch, the caress, the kicking, the stomping of their footsteps, and where they continue to roam in spirit.

The bond between our people and the land remains unbroken. Papatûânuku is the land, whether it is above the ocean or beneath it.

The question is - Why does the Government want to change what has been operating perfectly well for time immemorial, and has historically been handled very capably and faithfully by the Mâori people? Are they able to protect the sanctity of our sacred sites, the customary practises of the foreshore, and the resting places of our ancestors so they are not abused by other people, either in ignorance or otherwise? To me, we have been ordained by the gods and by our ancestors as custodians, guardians and protectors of our ancestral lands, what right has anybody to dispute what they have put in place?"

When I wander along the beach, I am reminded of my aunts and uncles who once walked with us following in the footsteps of their parents and grandparents. Our whanau and hapu are the custodians of the foreshore and seabed in our area. We have protected it without government assistance to the best of our ability all of our lives. Yet despite working tirelessly to that end, successive legislation has continued to undermine our ability to protect what we have left. In fact, dealing with people who have caused the problems in the first place and who are ignorant and oblivious to what they have done is something we as tangata whenua should not have to waste our precious time and resources on.

There have been calls throughout the country for dialogue over a reasonable period of time, but given the track record of local and central governments, dialogue and without prejudice meetings will do little to progress this issue because to date the government has already shown it can't be trusted to act in good faith. There have also been calls for constitutional change, which we support. But once again interpretation of what that means is tied up in the current government's agenda of cutting ties with Britain and moving Aotearoa/New Zealand, it appears towards republicanism. That is not the sort of constitutional change we want or need. Until government behaviour changes and the treaty is honoured, there will never be a firm foundation for constitutional change in this land.

Legislative theft

There is no doubt in our minds as coastal people that the government is writing the legislation and cultivating relationships which will progress its own agenda. As Tainui o Tainui ki Whaingaroa our hapu have never and will not consent to any group speaking for us on this issue, or signing away our rights as has already occurred in the past. The policies proposed by the Labour government, should be identified as legislative theft and consigned to the garbage can. The connections we have with our environment are fundamental to our way of life as custodians of the coast. We will never surrender our sandpit to a bully, no matter what the consequences, because to do so would be to forget the sacrifices and visions of our ancestors and parents who managed to retain the unimpeded use of our lands and waterways in the face of persistent adversity, for the children who are yet to be born. In closing I am inspired and have adapted some of the words of my mother, Tuaiwa Kereopa Rickard, who said:

"Whaingaroa is a special place. From my kainga at Te Kopua I watch the sun slowly sinking like a golden orb into the west and purvey the panorama of our world in all of its radiance. I don't want to look at transmitters and masts embedded in the whenua, whose cables stretch under te takutai moana spoiling my dreams. I don't want to look at more developments wreaking havoc in our place. I want to look at Whaingaroa and believe I am walking over the silent beaches of my childhood, immersing myself in the cleansing waters of Tangaroa, and following in the pathways of our taniwha and tupuna to protect for our future generations."

Angeline Greensill is a mother of 7, grandmother of 3, has an LLB and currently lectures in Maori geography at the University of Waikato. She affiliates to the Tainui hapu and Ngati Porou iwi and works actively to educate her tribe on customary fisheries, development and anti-ge matters. She recently presented evidence to the Waitangi Tribunal against the Government's Foreshore and Seabed policy

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