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The Taniwha and the Crown: defending water rights in Aotearoa/New Zealand

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Through the sale of hydroelectric and water company shares, the building of dams to impound and control freshwater supplies, and via water trading schemes, there is continual acceleration in the privatization of water resources around the world. Key opponents to the enclosure of this ‘common good’ are indigenous communities who, having had their land and water appropriated by colonial societies, are now seeing these subjected to further economic colonization, exploitation, and ecological degradation, often by transnational corporations with little or no local social or environmental accountability. Their protests regarding commercial appropriation are not merely attempts to assert prior rights of ownership and managerial responsibility. They are also a critique of ideologies oriented toward unlimited growth and development which, they argue, conflict with their more sustainable and reciprocal relations with place, and with the nonhuman environment. This article considers some of the efforts of indigenous people to uphold their traditional rights to own and manage water. It focuses particularly on a recent case brought by the Māori Council against the Crown in New Zealand/ Aotearoa. Taking this to the Waitangi Tribunal, to the High Court and finally to the Supreme Court, Māori tried to prevent the Government from privatizing a major hydroelectric company and thus its water allocations. As well as initiating a lively national discussion on water ownership and governance, the case articulated a bicultural dialogue which resonates with wider national and international debates about human–environmental relationships and what constitutes ‘the common good’. WIREs Water 2014, 1:121–131. doi: 10.1002/wat2.1002 This article is categorized under: Human Water > Rights to Water Human Water > Value of Water Human Water > Water Governance
‘Right to Water’ poster, Mexico City.
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Protest against mining along the New Zealand/Aotearoa coast, Auckland, 2010.
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Sea taniwha or marikihau, carving on Moana Marae, Auckland.
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Taniwha, Rotorua Court House.
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Nelson Brumby, one of the first Aboriginal Rangers in the community of Kowanyama, North Queensland.
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Alma Wason, fishing in the Mitchell River, North Queensland, Australia. Wason is a Kunjen elder from the Aboriginal community in Kowanyama. (Reprinted with permission from Ref . Copyright 2005 SAGE Publications)
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Wivenhoe Reservoir, Queensland, Australia. (Reprinted with permission from Ref . Copyright 2010 Berg)
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