Semester in New Zealand – Stolen Water – by Matthew Breeze. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports
Minnesota is The Land of Ten Thousands Lakes, as our license plates so often remind us. There is water almost everywhere we look. Those of us to live in Duluth or up the North Shore look out at the sun rise over the largest fresh water lake in the world every morning. Many of us grew up on lakes or have family cabins on lakes or rivers. Minnesotan are attached to their water. Lake Superior is more than just a lake, it is our lake, it is part of our identity. The waterways and lakes are part of who we are as people.
Now imagine if that water, that many of us hold near and dear, was taken away from us. Stolen without our consent. Not just a few drops or part of a river, but all of it. Gone. What would we do? How would we feel? What if Duluthians no longer had access to Lake Superior?
This is what has happened to the Ngati Rangi people of New Zealand. They are the tangata whenua, or people of the land. They are the Maori people of Mount Ruapehu. There is a struggle for water, but not just water in the sense that we westerners are accustomed to. For the Maori people of New Zealand water is not only water, it is sacred, it is their old people, their ancestors, their identity, they do not talk of the rivers, but to the rivers. They have a special personal connection to the water and the rivers of their home.
[This is one of the intakes where water is moved from the river into an underground pipe.]
The water in the rivers of their home is being taken by a series of twenty two concrete dams and collection units for use in a large hydro power plant. The water from the rivers and streams around Mount Ruapehu is damned and then funneled into a series of underground tunnels. Instead of traveling down their natural paths to the ocean like they have done for thousands of years, the waterways running down the mountain have been taken by a hydro power company. A vast network of tunnels and pipes moves the water do a large reservoir behind a huge dam.
This is what the Maori people have come up against. Steel and concrete instead of their ancestral streams and rivers. The image of a dry river bed has become a symbol of lasting colonization. The water was taken without their consent or even input. The government and the power company worked together to generate power.
After many decades of enduring this tragedy the Maori people of Nagti Rangi went to the courts to achieve justice. Years of battles in the courts produced outcomes favorable to the corporations. The money and time spent thus created an outcome that equaled the status quo. From this point the Maori people agreed to initiate talks with the power corporation to see if negotiations could find a better result than going through the courts.
[This is what the river is suppose to look like in a natural environment.]
Negotiations proved better than battles in the courts. The corporate officials were invited to a Marae (a traditional meeting house where my study abroad group had the honor of staying at also). From here the officials, the Maori leaders and older community members went to the rivers and talked about what they meant to Maori people. That the rivers are sacred and that it is a desecration of their ancestors that the rivers are blocked and diverted in steel pipes from their natural paths.
These visits and the lengthy discussions between Maori leaders and company officials have brought about promising changes. The officials and the CEO came to the conclusion that a change needed to come after seeing what the rivers meant to Maori people, including tears from elders at the sight of their dry rivers. The corporate officials could not look at the rivers and the water the same way after actually seeing it. When people take the time to go out and see the land for themselves rather than simply making decisions from an office a long way away the outcomes can be different, as well as environmentally or culturally conscious.
This change is occurring right now. Water flows are being returned to the rivers, the dams on the rivers are being opened to let some water through.
[This is my battle buddy Mary standing on the dam. The reservoir of stolen water is visible in the background.]
The Maori and the corporation have come to a number of agreements over this important ancestral water. The four rivers with the most water flow will have water running through them by 2017. This agreement seems to have satisfied both sides. The Maori leaders have said that “Hydro (power) has its place, but so do the rivers.”
The history between Maori people, the Ngati Rangi in this case, has been harsh and unfair toward the Maori. The balance of power as a result of colonization has often been to corporations and the government. Today however people in New Zealand are having conversations with each other and coming to agreements that can please both sides. The Maori once again can see the river run and flow. The rivers are alive once again. This has immense cultural ramifications that will reverberate throughout the community as time goes on. The next year will be a time of continued successes for the Maori as the rest of the agreed upon rivers has their dams opened up. The power company still gets water from these rivers to feed the reservoir that allows the generation of hydro electric power. This story is a story of compromise and communication overcoming decades of struggle and courtroom battles. When people talk to each other the results here were beneficial. Maybe this can be emulated in other parts of New Zealand and other parts of the world as indigenous groups fight for their sacred places to be respected.
About Matthew Breeze, NSR Editor. I am a junior at the college of St. Scholastica this year and I am majoring in Global, Cultural, and Language studies with a minor in spanish and a minor in political science. I will be returning to St. Scholastica in December. I am originally from Bemidji, Minnesota, but I have come to consider Duluth as my second home.
I have a passion for politics and I hope to someday work for the State Department or the Foreign Service working in international relations in some way shape or form.
I have always wanted to go to New Zealand. I have been to Canada and Mexico, but I really haven’t been anywhere different than the United States. The city in Mexico I was in was a tourist trap and Canada looks like my northern Minnesota home. I have a family connection to New Zealand as well as the general desire to visit. My grandfather was in New Zealand for rest and relaxation during World War II. The stories of his time in NZ have been passed down through the family and are one of the biggest reasons that I decided to do a study abroad semester in NZ.
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The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy (http://NorthStarReports.org) is a student edited and student authored open access publication centered around the themes of global and historical connections. Our abiding philosophy is that those of us who are fortunate enough to receive an education and to travel our planet are ethically bound to share our knowledge with those who cannot afford to do so. Therefore, creating virtual and actual communities of learning between college and K-12 classes are integral to our mission. In three years we have published over 250 articles covering all habitable continents and a variety of topics ranging from history and politics, food and popular culture, to global inequities to complex identities. These articles are read by K-12 and college students. Our student editors and writers come from all parts of the campus, from Nursing to Biology, Physical Therapy to Business, and remarkably, many of our student editors and writers have long graduated from college. We also have writers and editors from other colleges and universities. In addition to our main site, we also curate a Facebook page dedicated to annotated news articles selected by our student editors (http://www.facebook.com/NorthStarReports). This is done by an all volunteer staff. We have a frugal cash budget, and we donate much of our time and talent to this project. The North Star Reports is sponsored and published by Professor Hong-Ming Liang, NSR Student Editors and Writers, The Department of History and Politics of The College of St. Scholastica, and the scholarly Middle Ground Journal. For a brief summary, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at: http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2013/1305/Opening-The-Middle-Ground-Journal.cfm
Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief and Publisher, The North Star Reports; Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal; Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica. Kathryn Marquis Hirsch, Managing Editor, The North Star Reports.
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