chapter  7
13 Pages

The right to water as the right to identity: legal struggles of indigenous peoples of Aotearoa New Zealand

According to the worldview of my ancestors, wai (water) is everything. To us, the Indigenous peoples of Aotearoa New Zealand,1 known collectively as Maori, we live daily with this knowledge through our language, stories, songs, laws, and histories. As the whakatauki (proverb) above positions, water comes ¼rst. Or to give another example, in greeting someone new, we ask “Ko wai koe?” which queries “Who are you?” but more literally translates as “Who are your waters?” The answer will depend on which tribe and subtribe that person belongs to. For me, it is the Waikato River through my whakapapa (geneology) on my paternal grandfather’s side (Ngati Raukawa). All tribes have these geographical identity markers linked to water (and also mountains). The link between land and water and humans is a common language feature. For instance, iwi means both tribe and bone; hapu means both subtribe and to be pregnant; whanau means both extended family and to give birth; whenua means land and afterbirth. Wai means water, but also memory and who.2