Asambleas Ciudadanos


the Citizens' Assembly in Oceania



Report on the “Watersheds and governance” meeting

Translations : English . français . Español

The powhiri, or welcome by Maori elders from the tribes of the land and rivers of the area where our symposium was held, began the process of weaving together hosts and guests, those from the area and those from afar, and of drawing together the threads of different experience and expertise which people brought to share. For readers unfamiliar with the protocols of Aotearoa-NZ, the powhiri brings recognition of the traditional indigenous inhabitants, links the visitors to local tradition and custom, and is a process of engagement that nourishes heart and spirit and ensures respectful relationship building. The symposium was discussed with Maori from the area at the outset, and preparations for the symposium at Otaki included meetings with Maori groups during the preceding months.

Governance and Maori interests

RESPONSE’s interest in integrated governance is intended to contribute to creating intersectoral collaboration. As Gary Williams of Waterscape said ‘ the challenge is to bring people out of silos’. To this end groups represented at this local and environmentally oriented assembly included local community leaders, Maori, Pakeha and Pasefika groups with involvement in regional councils and municipal governance, engineers, lawyers, fisheries policy advisers, academics from science and environmental disciplines, educators, those with development interests, with recreational interests, researchers, writers and artists and philosophers.

Maori leadership brought first hand accounts of indigenous roles as kaitiaki (guardians) and Maori interests in governance – with one of the passionate leaders, Caleb Royal being recently appointed to a new overarching regional governance body. The achievement of Maori aspirations for environmental wellbeing requires highly skilled and strategic collaboration with parties which have parallel property, investment and business interests in local regions and watersheds.

The scope of Caleb’s interests range from regional governance to practical management of the rivers where his people live, with intensive monitoring based on assessments of the health of tuna (eel). Caleb’s colleague, another brilliant leader in the area, Huhanna Smith, demonstrated extraordinary courage and commitment to a restoration programme that entails working around lucrative farming interests and legacies of fragmentation from intensive colonial land grabbing. The sight of thriving wetland trees and water amidst the ‘green desert’ of surrounding farms created from drainage schemes brought a sense of respect and hope enhanced by the unique golden light of this coastal river and wetland area.

Integrated systems in the Pacific region

A regional Pacific focus was contributed through a presentation of a Samoan water programme, introduced by Lani Tupu, a Samoan Matai (leader) and beautifully illustrated through a film made by Ocean Mercier (who went to Brazil for the Confint). Two visitors from Vanuatu brought first hand knowledge of initiatives for watershed management based on community responsibility for waterways, coasts and land in Vanuatu and other Pacific Island countries. The backdrop of continuing localized authority and villages owning land and coastal territory facilitates the implementation of mountains to reef management. The authority of chiefs gives expression to ongoing local autonomy which needs to be respected and upheld by development and westerners engaging with such communities, often in the interests of resource development. One of the issues which constantly comes up is the tension between respect for local autonomy and state interests. The impulse for development, especially of driven from external interests, may clash with traditional systems of territorial and resource management. One theme that has arisen during the Across Oceania programme is the potential of working with and ethic of ecological responsibility to resolve conflicts of interest.

Different interests, different scales, braided systems

Knowledge from kaitiaki, community practitioners and water experts, including river engineers, scientists researching NZ river health, representatives from the NGO Fish and Game, the kayaking community and other interests were brought to thehui, or assemby. This combination helped to weave together the different aspects and considerations for river health and governance, and the direction in which river management is heading.A challenge which emerged was the need to provide for the ‘voice’ of the environment/ecosystem to inform governance. This requires an attunement which was familiar to those in close relationship with rivers, coasts and lands, but considered strange to existing systems of management. In westernized countries the capacity for integrated approaches is often frustrated by separated legal and policy jurisdictions (such as over forests and fisheries, rivers and agriculture, private and public property.

Bringing such a range of people together highlighted the complexity of managing the different interests in water – admirably reflected by the notion of respect for different ‘perspectives’ – as discussed by academic Russel Death. The contrast between utilitarian and commercial interests in water and the value of rivers as ‘sacrosanct channels’ was behind local and international case studies presented by Brian Kouvelis to demonstrate different interests in water. Yet in the end values must guide governance of waterways – values of river health and water quality which are in turn linked to respect for the integrity of river ecosystems and the interdependence between water and human health.

Spirituality of water is always part of indigenous discourses on water, and is expressed expressed by ‘later settlers’ too; this relationship with water was beautifully reflected in a presentation by Charles Dawson who traced a relationship with the Whanganui River through his family and symbolized a powerful story of connection with waterways that underlines the bonds between water, people and place. This spirit and passion is inherent in the historical writing of David Young and his exasperation with policy provisions that can continue to prioritize property development over water ecosystem protection. The impetus of seeking institutional systems and policy frameworks that correspond to and are in confluence with the living dynamics of river guides the life-long professional and creative work of engineer Gary Williams and Emily William’s local and national leadership in permaculture teaching and practice.

Discussions ranged from local and regional, to national and international priorities

The restoration of native fish species represents interests in local and historic ecologies and links with policy developmentwhich, in New Zealand, has taken place through the Resource Management Act which provided a framework for discussion on the feasibility of integrated management. Corina Jordon highlighted provisions for sustainable management of resources, protection of natural character, regard for Maori relationships with rivers and kaitiakitanga (guardianship), habitat protection and ecosystem values and enhancement of environmental quality. It was again noted: interests are diverse – can they be bridged or integrated? In spite of the provisions for integrated management in legislation, scepticism of the effectiveness of these provisions was highlighted by international teacher, activist and lawyer Peter Horsley. Peter raised the bar of aspiration by pressing for ecological democracy and the implementation of ‘wild law’ to support earth communities.

Mountains to Sea – challenges for governance

An approach we hope to hear more about, and is being developed by Simon Thomas is integrating fisheries, coastal and river management. The mountains to sea imaginary links oceans coasts and land but as yet our systems do not encompass these grand designs. However these are the habitats of native fish species from the grand tuna, or eels with a life span of 100 years or so, to tiny whitebait. Both species migrate from rivers to sea to fulfil their life cycles.

A helpful definition for an integrated approach to river science in Ian Fuller’s paper is: ‘’holistic, cross-disciplinary analysis of aquatic ecosystems that integrates physical and ecological integrity as a platform to analyse controls upon ecosystem integrity’. Several participants, including Gary Williams and John Philpott are members of an IPENZ ‘Rivers Group’. There is potential to this group to co-ordinate interests in watershed and ecosystem management and to identify further strategies for implement integrated systems. One of the features of the symposium was the energy that came from the fresh organic produce straight from Gary and Emily’s nearby farm. I’m sure this was why we could not draw people away from the tables and several times we waived the programmed sessions to let the conversations flow.

Stand out notes and ongoing questions:

  • How do we provide for the voice of the environment in governance?
  • A priority in Aotearoa-New Zealand across all sectors and interests, from water ecosystems to constitutional change, is for citizens from all walks of life and professions and roles to develop the capacity to support and work with Maori. It is commonly said that ‘what is good for Maori is good for everyone’. This refers to the holistic world views of Maori, and experience in integrating social, economic and environmental interests. This gathering was one contribution to building respect for indigenous approaches and the imperative of Maori involvement in governance.
  • Rights often dominates interests in water, but responsibilities for the integrity of ecosystems was raised in papers and discussions, and specifically posed by Te Kawehau Hoskins as a principle of governance to be further investigated.
  • There is an impending worldwide move to privatise water. Greg Ford’s paper gave an important warning but there was not time to engage adequately with privatization and the equally important imperative of governance of the commons.
  • Sustainability and wisdom in the governance and management of water ecosystems depends on knowledge brought by people with local knowledge and experience over time. Provision for this to be heard and respected, alongside knowledge from scientific and professional expertise is a key to the spectrum of information required at the tables of decision-making.
  • The outstanding collection of papers on so many topics related to river ecosystems, watersheds and governance prepared for the symposium will be gathered into an edited collection. This will provide a great resource for the view that human wellbeing is dependent on healthy waterways, and support for bringing laws and systems of integrated governance into effect.







Pacific Summer Assembly


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