"This project is the chance to take a fresh and thorough look at these old issues of 'who gets what' and actually develop a truly comprehensive framework for considering how we are going to manage our resources."

Rising on the main divide of the Southern Alps, the Hurunui River traverses North Canterbury via glacial lakes, greywacke gorges and gravel plains, on its way to the Pacific Ocean. Along its journey, it's a source of food, irrigation, recreation and beauty. Before the construction of the Arthur's Pass road, it served as the main route from Canterbury to the West Coast for both Māori and Pākehā.

Now, explains Faculty of Law senior lecturer Jacinta Ruru, of Ngāti Raukawa descent, the river is providing further opportunities still. At a time when the value of water is creating worldwide headlines, the Hurunui has become the subject of a four-year multidisciplinary FRST-funded study asking how its gifts can be shared, enjoyed and safeguarded. And, for Ruru, it means asking, "What is the role and voice of Ngai Tāhu in all of this?".

Ruru has been named the lead researcher in one of the four strands of this $1.8 million Landcare Research led project, with the task of exploring how the "Māori voice" is expressed and heard in resource governance.

Local, regional and central decisionmakers ought to be listening carefully to the Māori voice, says Ruru. But are they?

Ruru will be working closely with Te Rünanga o Ngai Tāhu as it develops the perspectives it wishes to bring to decision-making relating to water. It's a position Ruru - who assisted with the recently-agreed co-management plan of the Waikato River - describes as "a great honour".

"The knowledge and infrastructure Ngai Tāhu has developed in becoming a strong and effective Treaty [of Waitangi] partner in the past decade deserves serious admiration," she comments.

Ruru will also examine how Māori engage with other parties in pursuit of their goals. "What's most important is that the process reflects genuine dialogue and partnership, and is a living example of the ambitions of the Treaty of Waitangi," she believes.

Ruru's work will take place alongside other studies that comprise the Landcare project, examining areas from the economic potential of the river, its biodiversity, community perspectives on water-sharing and policy implications. The overall project's aims are both laudable and inspiring, she says. She is optimistic that the lessons learned from the Hurunui can be applied to other situations in which interested parties must work together to determine equitable, sustainable plans that support tikanga Māori.

"The issue of resource sharing has created tension and conflict around the world forever. It's not going to go away. Now, with water being described as 'the new gold' and phrases like 'water poverty' circulating, it's so important to be focused on solutions.

"This project is the chance to take a fresh and thorough look at these old issues of 'who gets what' and actually develop a truly comprehensive framework for considering how we are going to manage our resources."

Funding