20 Apr 2018

Young Māori leaders advocate for land protection rights at the UN

8:40 pm on 20 April 2018

A group of young Māori leaders have advocated for greater protection of the rights of the land in a powerful presentation at the UN Indigenous Issues Permanent Forum in New York this week.

Te Wehi o Mahuru Wright was among those selected to attend the United Nations Indigenous Permanent forum.

Te Wehi o Mahuru Wright was among those selected to attend the United Nations Indigenous Permanent forum. Photo: Victoria University / Supplied

The 12 rangatahi were selected through The Moko Foundation, a charitable trust led by former New Zealander of the Year, Dr Lance O'Sullivan.

Te Wehi Omahuru Wright was chosen as the co-chair for the Pacific Caucus.

In his opening address to indigenous world leaders and members of the forum today, he and his rōpu challenged the theme of the forum all together.

"I'd like to touch on the theme of the forum which is, 'the collective rights of indigenous people to their land, their territories and their natural resources'. We are here to challenge that thought.

"We believe that the right isn't to the people, but the right itself belongs to the land. We have rephrased the theme for this forum to be, it's not us that has a right but it's the land, the territories and the natural resources that has the right to indigenous and collective protection and prosperity.

"We, as indigenous people, derive the privilege by virtue of our connection to that land. We speak to the land and we speak on behalf of the land."

Te Huia Taylor acknowledged that Papatūānuku or mother earth was dying.

As the life force of all living beings it was vital she be nourished and protected, she said.

"When she is thriving, we are thriving... As inhabitants of her land, we see her wounds but we are not listening to her cry.

"We continue to take, exploit, degrade and destroy. If we do not act today it will be too late. Our ecosystems will collapse, our relationship with Papatūanuku will be lost and there will be no turning back.

"We have to be the generation to save the world."

Te Rua Wallace said the government led the way in environmental protection when it recognised Whanganui River as a legal person last year.

But legal protection of her ancestral river was not enough, she said.

"The bigger and better goal would be for mother earth to hold the same legal rights just as Bolivia has implemented into their law."

Rangipare Belshaw-Ngaropo drew the audience's attention to Chinese water bottling company, Nongfu Spring, who have recently applied to extract 580 million litres of water from the Bay of Plenty.

"I would like to make reference to article ten of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, 'indigenous peoples may not be removed or relocated or forced from their lands,'

"Well, actually, I would argue, we would argue, that our natural resources have their own respective rights to not forcefully be removed and relocated from their lands."

The 12 rangatahi have been documenting their experiences and will continue their journey at the UN forum for the next three weeks.