Menu
Fadzly, Shutterhack

Water from an indigenous perspective

Pauline Tangiora | 06 February 2013

Debating future water policy should integrate its religious and cultural values, instead of framing it as a commodity, argues Pauline Tangiora from the New Zealand Earth Charter Commissioner and Indigenous Grandmother

Firstly we need to make it clear: no one owns the water. Water is a gift from the creator. When we see how we are able to live, it is because we carry the essence of life within us. Most of our body is water. Previous to our birth we lived within a water sac in the womb of our mother who gave light to us when we took our first breath.  
 

For indigenous peoples, when there has been a tragedy, for example drowning, the leaders will close off the usage of these waterways between certain points along the coastline or out to sea until the body is found. If it is not found it is closed for fishing for a period of time as respect to the departed. 

Water is used for blessings to cleanse the spirit of negativity, bathing, helping plants grow and general cleaning.  In other words, without water humanity and the universe would not survive.

When we talk of partnerships based on ownership then we have lost the plot. From my understanding we can never own this gift. However, we have a responsibility to the following generations to care for the water so that it is not contaminated by poisons or other contaminants entering the water supply by damming the natural flow that prohibits others from free usage. In this way it will remain everyone’s responsibility to make sure that sustainable use is there for all.

Without respecting and understanding why indigenous peoples care for this element of nature, it will not matter which part of the world we live in, nothing will change. Rivers or streams may have a special significance. In the past the first catch of the season may have been returned to the waters as a mark of respect to the gods.

To answer how water partnerships can overcome conflict is a symbol of western thinking. We cannot set up little boxes and prioritize them accordingly. Water gives life to all living things. We are aware that the socialization of communities starts and ends with clean water. Harvests must have water to create healthy food growth.  Industry and consumers need to reflect what their responsibilities to other users of water are. In setting up factories are they poisoning the waterway in the goods they produce? For example, how much water does it take to make fashionable garments?

In coastal areas indigenous tribal peoples have responsibilities to close fishing grounds if they believe that they have been over-fished. Now in many countries negotiations are made by governments and multinational companies who ignore these values. Do we let political powers control what happens to the water without thinking of our future generations? Finally, multinational companies have a license to invade the lands and waterways of the people, cutting down forests that have a place in the universe. They are assisting water depositories and war armaments that destroy settlements and leach poisons into the waterways.

Many indigenous tribal peoples live by or alongside waterways. And these are seen by investors as prime areas to put up resorts. Thereby they’re pushing people off their communal land, which has their history embedded in the waters and land. There is a saying in English: The sea and land is me, they are inseparable.                                                                                 

With this happening, how can we as indigenous peoples continue to protect the purity of water to be share by all peoples and fauna and flora of the universe? Our answer must start within; we all need to look at what we are doing to keep our shining jewel alive. For water is the ultimate of giving life to the future generations.        

Photo credit main picture: Fadzly, Shutterhack

Prioritising Water after 2015

Dossier

Prioritising Water after 2015

Expert opinion

Related themes:

About the author

Pauline Tangiora

Pauline Tangiora is a Maori elder from the Rongomaiwahine Tribe on the East Coast of the North Is...

full profile ▶