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Rangi Mahuta and Patience Te Ao

Taranganui Marae, Port Waikato

Rangi and PatienceThe marae is riverfront, we used to swim there all the time. It was awesome! We all got chucked in the river and learned to swim, learned to row boats, learned to whitebait, learned to gather freshwater pipis, catch flounder.

The white bait season, once upon a time, used to be a big reunion. People would come back from the cities and the South Island and even Australia, so they were maintaining that connection, not just with the river but with family. It was fun but that slowly stopped happening. Life got too busy to come back; there has been disconnect, of the transfer of knowledge, so a lot of that has been lost about the river.

We were lucky enough to have old people around us when we were young, so we got taught all these activities: how to respect the river; what to do and not to do. It just was a normal way of life.

When we were kids at our marae, our drinking water was taken straight from the river and it didn’t harm us. There was certainly more food then. Less sediment. It used to be sandy. We used to get kāeo, fresh water pipi, right in front of the marae. Now when you walk in the water you can feel stuff ooze through your toes. We had some random discussion with some random people, and one of them said that because the river is so dirty and yuck they don’t swim in it, or are fussy about where they eat from it. It’s affected their relationship with it. To us, she is alive until she stops flowing. It’s dirty, it’s blah blah. Excuse me, that’s our tupuna you are talking about!

But no one was really looking after our end of the river so Te Taniwha o Waikato was set up as a lobby group, for marae to watch over the discharges into our area. One of the biggest was Watercare’s wastewater discharge at Tūākau. When they were going to go for their roll over of consents, we wanted to make sure the water that came out was better than what we have. We want to be able to do what we used to do!

The river Treaty settlement gives us leverage to push for better quality discharge. Watercare listened, but it took a lot of talking to get us there.

The next issue is the water take for Auckland. They want to double it. And with their population growing and growing they will be doubling it again. We already know this river is over-allocated, and there is a huge waiting list for the water. We all want water! What’s that going to mean for everyone along the river?