Friday, 3 July 2009

Victory for foreshore and seabed Hikoi

A government report, from a panel established as the result of the Maori Party's support deal with National, will lead to the scrapping of Labour's foreshore and seabed legislation. This is a victory for all of us who marched in the Hikoi in 2004. It's also an apparant vindication of the Maori Party's controversial decision to support the National-led government. According to the NZ Herald:
The report says Labour's law must go, but talks are needed over the new system. Maori tribes may be given legal title to parts of the foreshore and seabed separately or jointly with the Crown if the Government adopts the suggestions of its ministerial review panel. The panel's report, issued yesterday, describes the Foreshore and Seabed Act as severely discriminatory to Maori and "the single biggest land nationalisation statute enacted in New Zealand history".. "As we see it, once the respective rights have been resolved in any particular area of the foreshore and seabed, the beneficial and perhaps the legal title for the area would be held by the entitled hapu or iwi, or the Crown, or both jointly ... " The panel, chaired by former High Court judge Eddie Durie, said new policy should start with the assumption that hapu and iwi held customary title over the foreshore and seabed. It was an "open question" whether customary interests should be treated as exclusive ownership, complete with rights to income from commercial activities such as mining, and such a question could be addressed only through negotiations between the Government, the public and affected iwi.
Hackles will be raised by talk of “exclusive ownership, complete with rights to income from commercial activities such as mining”. For some it will confirm suspicions that all those Maori want to do is make money. Such fears need to be kept in context. A key aim of Labour's seabed and foreshore law was to ensure the Crown's ownership of the seabed and foreshore was undisputed, so that it could profit from selling off the rights to these resources to fish farming and mining interests. It's neither surprising or outrageous that some Maori feel they should be entitled to a share of the proceeds. Maori, like the population in general, is divided between the rich and rest. The creation of a Maori middle class with jobs as consultants and bureaucrats and an elite of “corporate warriors” who managed the million-dollar assets of iwi corporations was a deliberate part of the Treaty Settlements in the 80s and 90s. Meanwhile the economic reforms and recessions of that time hit working class Maori hardest of all, adding to the legacy of colonialism and ongoing racism. Maori (again like everyone else) will also be divided over whether to preserve or pillage these resources, or whether the coast and sea should be seen as something more than just an economic resource. On this last question, capitalism's demand for resource-depleting economic growth clearly conflicts with Maori traditions of sustainable interaction with the natural world. These traditions are potential source of strength for all ecological activists.

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