As the falling rain is made from a thousand drops of water so too did the Wai Hui bring forth a thousand stories around water.
Our small drops gathered on the shores of Lake Rotorua, standing outside Tunohopu marae with our whanaunga Chanz Mikaere and her baby Pia. They live in Ohinemutu and were being interviewed by local reporter Cherie Taylor about her life as a mama. It was a beautiful sun-filled day and as the steam rose into the sky, we waved goodbye to whanau and set off on our journey toward Ngaruawahia.
A series of speakers would be invited to speak, we were told, and there would be an open forum for whanau, hapu and iwi to talk about their concerns with what was happening today.
And what was happening today?
Well, from what we heard, Prime Minister John Key wanted sell our water to the highest bidder.
There was a complicated method but at the heart of the matter was that his National Government sought to override the rights of whanau, hapu, iwi to local waterways and in particular, that the sale of shares in the SOE’s which generated money from the flow of this water had nothing to do with Maori.
This was interesting where we came from as Te Arawa had a very different take on things. Our whanau and hapu had challenged local, regional and central government to recognise our place as tangata whenua, the rights and responsibilities of hapu to their local waterways, and with our iwi to half recognise our intergenerational role in our lakes (I say half because we have rights over the lake in name and the lake beds but not quite the water which flows through, but more on that later).
With Lake Rotorua now to our back, we entered te rohe o Tainui, waving to the carved coloured pou just after the Fitzgerald Glade and gazing at the Waikato River as we came into Tirau, then Cambridge. We stopped for a baby break, looking at the wide awa and talking about our thoughts and opinions on the recent Waitangi Tribunal hearings. We knew they were important but also knew that John Key would ignore them. Most Prime Ministers did.
Back into the car and on into Hamilton, turning right along River Road and following our flowing whanaunga all the way to Ngaruawahia.
The pohiri was to be held at 11.30am – rather late for a gathering of this magnitude – and we made our way to the front gate.
There were hundreds of cars and buses all along and this time, only a handful of whanau stood outside with their flags raised. A few years ago, I came here to protest against the signing of the Fiscal Envelope and there were lots of us flying our flags in open defiance. Today, lots of smiles and welcoming waves.
We turned into the gate and could see hundreds of people fanned out around the marae compound, with lots of activity in a kai tent set up outside the dining room Kimiora, and lots of attention on the marae forecourt, where the formalities were being exchanged on the Paepae.
Waka after waka stood to mihi, to greet and to acknowledge the passing of whaea Jacqui Te Kani. There was great sadness around the atea when remembering many of those who had passed but also, you could sense a glimpse of hope and optimism.
Once the final speaker had concluded, Rahui Papa encouraged all to join together for lunch and then to re-assemble within Kimora to hear from the guest speakers at 2pm. Chanz and Pia walked around, talking to whanau and catching up. I stood under a small tree in the back, talking to the bro’s Potaka Maipi, Muru, Jerome and Jayson Gardiner. We could see Iwi Leaders and Hapu Spokespeople, honoured elders and Maori activists, politicians and celebrities all mingling.
One of the things that surprised me was how many Pakeha journalists were in attendance, but in a way, we could tell they could also sense something big was coming.
Or maybe they heard there was lunch being served.
Either way, we saw whanau from home in Rotorua – Koro Te Poroa Malcom and Hamu Mitchell, Geoff Rice and Kiri Potaka-Dewes. Our Mana Rotorua whanau had arrived and we caught up with Bernie Hornfeck and whaea Kahu. Actually, Kahu was raised on Turanagawaewae and talked about the 3 buildings that sat where Kimiora sits now, and all of the pine trees that used to grow and block the wind from the river. I saw Annette Sykes and Koro Te Ariki Morehu, Tamarapa Lloyd, Kahuariki & Rikihana Hancock and the sis Tina Porou.
It was good actually because the radical in me said that if anyone stood up purporting to be Te Arawa and saying YES to any water deal, that I would tackle them off the stage and drag them home. Luckily, many of the right people were here.
Then 2 o’clock came. I was standing with Bernie as the doors to Kimora opened and he made his way in. Chanz wanted to stay outside with Pia and talk to our whanaunga Rawiri, who had brought along his 3 tamariki from Rotorua. He said this was a historic korero and it would be amazing opportunity for his kids to sit and learn. We all agreed and I gaped it down toward a back door I had seen open.
What turned out to be the Media Room entrance (which was packed!), gave me front row access to the stage and to the huge hall. I had been here in 1994 with our course Te Timatanga Hou at Waikato University and it brought back some really cool memories.
Up on stage sat Tukuroirangi Morgan, Ranginui Walker, Linda Te Aho, Eddie Durie and Tumu Te Heu Heu.
As Tuku started to open the Hui, in dramatic fashion one of the uncles stood and attempted to shut it down. He was quickly talked over to the side by matua Tom Roa and Hori Awa but it did get things going at a quickened pace.
Each speaker brought with them a wealth of experience and knowledge. From Ranginui Walker talking about the whakapapa of Maori and water, through to Naida Glavisch & Iritana Tawhiwhirangi reminding everyone that whanau and hapu are the true protectors of all wai Maori.
We heard Sonny Tau congratulate the New Zealand Maori Council for leading the case to the Waitangi Tribunal on behalf of all Maori and then heard a challenge from Annette Sykes as she gave voice to the point that women and the poor were not represented on the stage. Hundreds applauded as she spoke to the very nature of our special relationship with water and re-affirmed the basic point that we all needed to stay united, to work as one and to keep each other involved during the next few weeks, months and years.
I’m not sure who it was but someone mentioned the creation of a Maori Framework and described the importance of supporting the Maori Council as they created the common ground for Hapu to speak, which was in turn supported by the many Iwi who had gathered.
By now, I had moved outside where whanau were watching the stage on tv screens. There was great discussion around this idea – that Iwi financially support the Maori Council to gather Hapu korero and advocate as one.
Some said that we had so many Maori A-Listers gathered that perhaps we should pass around a hat and get some of them to open up their chequebooks right now. Lots of laughter at that comment.
But some of the kuia sitting at the table nodded seriously, saying the same thing: We can stop John Key, if we all just work together.
They liked the idea of Hapu retaining their mana and being able to not only speak to their unique relationship with water but to also bring the whanau together and to share stories. That way, this kaupapa becomes multigenerational and enables us to share korero around water, which also encourages whakawhanungatanga, whakapapa, wananga. They got excited. One of the cuzzies piped up “Bro, you should start a Facebook group for us and call it Wai Maori Rangatahi”. We laughed again. I might just do that.
I moved back into Kimora, saying hello to Hone Harawira and Mike Smith, and meeting up with my whanaunga Maru Tapsell from Maketu. We gave each other a hongi and exchanged smiles. I looked up and saw Alvina Edwards and our dear friend Celia Hotene, who we travelled with during the 2004 Seabed & Foreshore kaupapa. We smiled and waved before the flood of people had me back outside.
So we thanked Moko Templeton, who had kindly invited and let us know the details of the day and made our way back to the carpark.
As we left, more people were joining the hui and we got laughing with a couple of young brothers who also happened to be walking past. It was a pretty good way to finish a deeply significant day.
There was a lot to take in and it is understandable that many still do not know what is happening and what is at stake.
One of the challenges from the Wai Hui was for everyone to return home and to share what was spoken of. While we could see many different agendas at play, we all understood that kotahitanga, unity, was essential.
I heard many Pakeha at the hui agree that they needed to support Maori calls for unity and to get actively involved as many of them did not want the SOE’s sold either
For many of our whanau, water means your local creek where the kids learned to swim and where kai was gathered; water means turning on a tap and being able to drink clean water and is used to wash those same tamariki, clothes, dishes; water is the ancestral link you have to the land when you recite your Pepeha – Your Mountain, Your River, Your Lake, Your Marae, Your Tupuna, Your Family. You. He Tangata Maori.
For Hapu, there was a recognition that the Treaty of Waitangi was an agreement between the Crown and Hapu, but also scepticism around Iwi Leadership groups who meet with Government and fail to return back to hapu forum.
For Iwi, the challenge was clear and laid out. To continue supporting the Maori Council, to make sure that Hapu mana was respected in all deliberations, to share as much information with whanau as possible and to remain united.
We do hope the korero today remains real and that we keep together as a united front. Too many times, 1 voice says yes and the Government of the day use that one yes to divide and rule us. From what we heard today, everyone agreed to stay together and so, it will be our kaupapa to make sure that is followed.
Nga mihi miharo ki a tatou. Kia maia. Kia manawanui.