Te Awa Tupua
In March 2017 legislation was passed in Parliament establishing a unique legal status for the Whanganui River, that of Te Awa Tupua. Under this new status, the River is recognised as an indivisible and living whole, comprising the Whanganui River from the mountains to the sea, incorporating all its physical and metaphysical elements.
In doing so, the Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claims Settlement) Act 2017 establishes a framework at law to support the innate values of the Whanganui River practised by Whanganui hapū and iwi for centuries. These four values, called Tupua Te Kawa, will now guide all actions and decision making to provide for the health and well-being of both the River and its peoples.
The paradigm shift from merely speaking about the River to actively speaking to the River as a community is powered by this new status and the time-honoured values of Tupua Te Kawa.
Tupua te Kawa
The first of the four values are “Ko te awa te mātāpuna o te ora” – “The River is the source of spiritual and physical sustenance.” We share an emotional attachment with the River as much as we do a physical one. Whether we have held this relationship for thousands of years, or for a century, our emotional connections nonetheless drive our duty of care toward the River.
The second core value is indivisibility: “E rere kau mai te awa nui mai te kāhui maunga ki Tangaroa” – “The great river flows from the mountains to the sea.” If we are to address the River’s needs, we must address the River as a whole. True collaboration requires us to conceptually (and perhaps literally) dissolve the governance and management boundaries that currently divide the River so that we can better maintain a view of the big picture.
The third value relates to the longstanding relationship that Whanganui hapū and iwi have with the River. As hapū and iwi, we are inextricably intertwined with the River. The tribal maxim “Ko au te Awa, ko te Awa ko au” – “I am the River and the River is me” speaks of a responsibility to care for the River out of whakapapa (kinship) with the River itself; a responsibility that can neither be conferred nor removed.
The fourth value speaks of the small and large streams that flow into one another and form one River: “Ngā manga iti, ngā manga nui e honohono kau ana hei Awa Tupua.” This value recognises that all communities have an interest in ensuring the health and wellbeing of the River. It is an affirmation that each of the streams (communities) of the River remain steadfast in our collaboration to that end.
Thus, a duty of responsibility and care is created across communities of the River - to actively collaborate over the health and wellbeing of the Whanganui River, Te Awa Tupua. Most importantly the collective responsibility inherent in Tupua te Kawa will bind, educate and guide successive generations to a greater and more inclusive discourse over sustainability of natural resources locally, nationally and globally.