The fight to stop a major international company from taking a billion litres of water a year from the Awaiti Aquifer near Whakatāne has reached the High Court.
Ngāti Awa is appealing the Bay of Plenty Regional Council's decision to grant Creswell New Zealand Limited consent to expand an existing water bottling operation in Ōtakiri.
Nearly 100 descendants of the iwi gathered outside the court room this morning, determined to stop Creswell from taking more water from the Awaiti Aquifer and expanding the existing water bottling plant.
The company is a subsidiary of Chinese soft drinks giant Nongfu Spring.
It not only wants to increase the number of plastic bottles produced per hour at the existing plant - but also build two new bottling lines, each producing 72,000 bottles an hour.
Ngāti Awa is not alone in this fight. Today it was joined by members of neighbouring iwi Ngāti Te Rangi and Ngāti Pikiao, who made their support - and their voices - known ahead of the opening submissions through song.
A previous attempt by Ngāti Awa to challenge the council's decision was dismissed by the environment court last year.
A key issue was whether the court was required to consider the environmental effects of plastic bottles - when the use of the bottles did not itself a require resource consent.
It later concluded that the adverse impacts of plastic waste, and the foreign ownership of Creswell were outside of its jurisdiction.
But the lawyer for Ngāti Awa, Horiana Irwin-Easthope, alleged the court failed to consider the impact exports had at a local level - including how it could hinder the ability of the iwi to exercise kaitiakitanga or guardianship.
"While, yes, exports and the water going to another place, where its tikanga does not apply, and its ability to be kaitiaki is gone... is due to that export, the impact of that is felt squarely by Ngāti Awa in Ngāti Awa's rohe, in New Zealand."
Irwin-Easthope said it was made clear to the court that the iwi were already actively exercising their role as kaitiaki by trying to decrease the number of plastic bottles within the rohe.
"Ms Leonie Simpson, the CEO of Ngāti Awa, made the specific comment around what Ngāti Awa is currently doing to be better kaitiaki, and one of those things was in relation to a particular business it owns to remove plastic bottles from all of its business outlets."
She argued because the environment court decided early-on that it didn't have the jurisdiction to consider aspects of the end-use of the water, including the impact of plastic waste - this had flow on effects to the way the court assessed other areas of the resource consent.
"Noting that it couldn't consider particular effects of end-use and therefore constrained itself in that regard, had a flow on effect to how it viewed the planning framework, whether or not it was complete and whether or not it needed to back to part two."
The Ngāti Pikiao Environmental Society also appeared at the High Court today to support the appeal.
Its lawyer Rob Enright said one major issue for Ngāti Pikiao - which also had interests in the water - was how the Environment Court failed to consider rangatiratanga as a relevant consideration for the resource consent.
"The Environment Court doesn't refer anywhere to rangatiratanga or the argument itself, and so this is a classic case of failure to consider a relevant matter by the Environment Court... that is a key principle of the treaty itself."
Submissions by the Bay of Plenty regional council in response to the appellant will get underway tomorrow.