Gerard Albert of the Whanganui River Trust Board spoke to participants at the Whanganui seminar, held at the Josephite retreat centre on Saturday 26 August, about his iwi’s upcoming hearing at the Waitangi Tribunal.
The tribunal was convening a special hearing to consider Whanganui iwi’s objections to plans to divert the headwaters of the Whanganui river for power development.
Gerard said the Resource Management Act still fails to protect cultural and spiritual values in land and resource use, when weighed against social, environmental and economic matters. ‘We’re looking for our values to be put into the plan of how we manage the river.’
He recalled stories told to him as a child by one of the early French missionaries who came to the river and was listened to and took instruction from Māori about their beliefs and their use of the river.
‘The parallel he drew on was of St Francis of Assisi,’ Gerard said, adding the missionary said that considering St Francis’s view of nature helped to demonstrate the degree to which other parts of the Church had drawn apart from nature.
Sr Noelene Landrigan said her awareness of environmental issues began with actions of Māori groups who stood in front of logging trucks and objected to river pollution. ‘They alerted me to many issues that we as Pakeha were not aware of.’
She said returning to Whanganui after some years away and seeing the conditions that the children of the river lived in, she ‘couldn’t believe how sick the people were, how poor, how much they were struggling.’
An initiative she is supporting is the protection and restoration of heritage fruit sites, including varieties of peach trees brought to the area by Mother Aubert, which have become known as ‘Māori peaches’. ‘This is the kind of food our children should be eating.’