Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Nobody owns water: Te Tiriti, te wai and changing Pākehā

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posted on 2021-11-15, 12:40 authored by Graham, James

Colonisation has been described as being at least in part about securing and controlling natural resources and the history of relationships between indigenous people and subsequent settlers as largely representing a battle for control over those resources (Kahn, 1999). A current example is the contest between Māori and the Crown over access to and control over fresh water resources in Aotearoa/New Zealand, part of a wider assertion of Māori rights under the Treaty of Waitangi (Ruru, 2012; Mikaere, 1997; Wikaira 2010). The Ministry for the Environment reports that Māori assertions of water ownership should be addressed before any changes to water management can occur (Ministry for the Environment, 2005).  Pākehā responses to Māori interests in water are critical to future outcomes for both Pākehā and Māori. How Pākehā views about the Treaty have changed and how they might change in the future will determine how Pākehā respond to Māori claims of rights and interests in water. The views of Pākehā are important because, as the culturally and numerically dominant group in Aotearoa/New Zealand they exert considerable political power.  This research investigates how and why Pākehā views about the Treaty of Waitangi, particularly in regard to water, have changed and how and why they may change in the future. A qualitative approach was taken, using a constructionist theoretical lens. Semi-structured interviews with purposively selected Pākehā research participants who had demonstrated knowledge of the Treaty, provided the primary data source. Review of relevant literature provided a secondary data source. The data was analysed thematically to reveal any patterns, themes and contexts of the interview participants’ views.  The literature and interviews outlined considerable change in Pākehā views since the 1950s, indicating a growing acceptance that Māori have a special status as tangata whenua and that the Treaty gives specific rights to Māori. This is seen in the acceptance of Māori cultural practices at official functions, limited resourcing of Māori input to resource management decisions, increasing acceptance of te reo in the media, Pākehā adoption of Māori practices and perhaps most significantly acceptance of historic injustice and Crown compensation to iwi through the Treaty settlement process. Empirical evidence from successive surveys by the Human Rights Commission indicate a growing general knowledge and interest in the Treaty of Waitangi. However dominant group ‘myth making’ remains and resistance to change is evident.  Pākehā change has occurred in response to external influences like the American civil rights movement, womens’ movement, and progressive church anti-racism ideas but critical influences were Māori protests including the 1975 land march, Whāingaroa (Raglan Golf Course), Takaparawhau (Bastion Point) and Pākaitore (Moutoa Gardens). Television made these protests more visible to Pākehā in the 1960s and increased contact between Pākehā and Māori as Māori moved from rural areas to cities from the 1950s were factors. Significant decisions made by the Waitangi Tribunal, government attempts to include the Treaty into policy, the concientising effect of the Springbok rugby tour in 1981 and Treaty education all contributed to changing Pākehā views. Barriers to changing Pākehā views were identified as the unrecognised bias which derives from Pākehā values, their position of dominance and biased media.  The participants foresaw Pākehā becoming more informed, through on going contact with Māori and Māori organisations resulting in increased resourcing of Māori input to resource management decisions and slow devolution of greater authority over resources to Māori authorities. From this it was hoped that Pākehā might develop a greater understanding of the power relationship that exists between Pākehā and Māori resulting in greater sharing of that power.  The interviewees indicated that change would occur if Pākehā could see the benefits that would accrue to them as a group and to Aotearoa/New Zealand, suggesting that this could occur if Pākehā were properly and fully informed. They considered that Pākehā had a responsibility to work with Pākehā and highlighted the importance of Treaty education.  A pattern of three phases of Pākehā change emerged from the interviews. The first was an understanding and acceptance of historic injustice that had led to the Treaty settlement process. The second is development of an understanding of Māori tino rangatiratanga as expressed in Article Two of the Treaty, the first stages of which were being seen in Treaty settlements over natural resources with co-management or co-governance provisions, particularly where they relate to water. The third step, not widely seen in Pākehā society is an acceptance within Aotearoa/New Zealand of a Māori world view. It was expressed that if the second and third steps are to follow the first, considerable further change must occur in Pākehā thinking.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Environmental Studies

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Environmental Studies

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970105 Expanding Knowledge in the Environmental Sciences

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences


Hutchings, Jessica