The Catholic Agency for Justice, Peace and Development

Battling to protect indigenous food sources in Aotearoa New Zealand

The Parihaka community in Taranaki, Aotearoa New Zealand lost their lands to confiscation in the 1880s. Present-day neighbouring land practices continue to erode their access to traditional food sources. They struggle to influence decisions on environmental matters as local government does not recognise Parihaka’s kaitiakitanga (environmental guardianship) over their area.

“We have a long history of battling for our reefs, and our food sources, our rivers,” says community member Tihikura Hohaia. “I grew up hearing the kuia here carry that fight. I’ve seen it with my own eyes: piharau [lamprey] rocks – that’s a special kind of fish that we catch in winter – they’re being pushed aside and moved so that the farmer can get his quad bike across the river easier, and get the stock through the river.”

Recently a neighbouring farmer diverted the Waitekaure manga (stream) – threatening a beautiful wetland in the process. “It’s a stretch of over 100 metres,” says Tihikura, “of what’s become pretty rare on that particular manga where the water comes out of its main channel and gets absorbed by marsh. You can actually walk on it, but it feels like you’re floating and you get the sense that tuna [eels], whitebait can really get underneath there, and have a place to be.

“You could say that the streams have provided for millennia, therefore it has economic value, it should be, but it’s a whole different cultural language. They’re almost saying that the arteries that feed the river don’t matter – go ahead and bury them. Whereas we’d say without our arteries, our rivers are nothing. Without those smaller feeders, that river wouldn’t have any water in it.

“Once the oil starts running out, and economies start collapsing because they’ve based their whole thing on oil, we’re going to have to start relying on our local food again, and the more we do now to protect our waters and our reefs, and our land – our soil quality, the better off we’ll be.”

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Tutu ana te puehu - Stirring up the dust