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Image by John Salzarulo

Te Pā Auroa nā
Te Awa Tupua

The Whanganui River, along with the surrounding catchment lands and the mountains that provide its water source, have originated from Te Kawa Ora, the universal law of nature, followed by the Whanganui hapū since the beginning of humankind. Te Kawa Ora encompasses the establishment of the sky, lands, seas, and the natural landscape as we know it. This law has guided the practices of Whanganui hapū throughout history and continues to define their ongoing relationship with the Whanganui River.


When European settlers arrived in the 1840s and established a settler government, laws were implemented to assert control over lands and natural resources based on the settlers understanding. This marked a departure from the relational belief system of managing natural resources through Te Kawa Ora and introduced a transactional, consumptive, and exploitative approach centred around individual landowner rights.


The fight of Whanganui hapū to maintain their collective rights to the ownership of the Whanganui River based on Te Kawa Ora lasted from the 1870s to the 21st century. During the 1930s to 1960s, a legal case was collectively pursued by Whanganui hapū to challenge Crown ownership and control of the riverbed, which demonstrated their deep-rooted belief in Te Kawa Ora.


The hapū argued for an unbroken connection between the hapū and the River through the ancestral responsibilities of Tamaupoko, Hinengākau, and Tupoho in maintaining the natural law system of the River. The legal proceedings resulted in a stalemate.


Over the years, governments have continuously changed the management of natural resources, consolidating a value system imported from 1840 that disregarded Te Kawa Ora practiced by Whanganui hapū.

Recognition of Te Tiriti o Waitangi in statute law in the late 1980s acknowledged the relationship hapū have with natural resources, but it was deemed subordinate to the overall purpose of legislation. Te Kawa Ora was treated as a minor consideration rather than central to planning and decision making, often labelled as cultural or spiritual and divorced from mainstream considerations.


However, Te Kawa Ora as practiced by Whanganui hapū and iwi, encompasses a broad frame of reference that includes environmental, political, economic, and social aspects for deciding the appropriate care and use of the Whanganui River.


In 2014, after more than a decade of negotiations, Whanganui hapū signed the Whanganui River Deed of Settlement called Ruruku Whakatupua with the Crown. This settlement, along with the subsequent Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claims Settlement) Act 2017, established Te Pā Auroa as the governing framework that places Te Kawa Ora as the primary guiding principle for all governance and management within the Whanganui catchment.


Te Pā Auroa comprises several key elements, including the legal recognition of the Whanganui River as Te Awa Tupua, a living and indivisible whole, and Tupua te Kawa, a set of inherent values derived from the knowledge and worldview of Whanganui hapū and iwi. Te Pā Auroa also establishes Te Pou Tupua as the representative of the legal status of Te Awa Tupua and creates strategies and dedicated groups for the protection and management of the river.

He pā kaha kua hangaia kia toitū ahakoa ngā waipuke o te ngahuru, o te makariri me te koanga

The broad eel weir built to withstand the autumn,

winter and spring floods

The name of the Te Awa Tupua framework symbolises an extensive, well-constructed

framework for Te Awa Tupua that is fit for purpose, enduring and the responsibility of all.

Te Heke Ngahuru

Symbolises the potential of Te Awa Tupua to provide for all if cared for and protected as a living spiritual and physical resource.


Te Heke Ngahuru - The First Autumn Migration of Eels.


Te Heke Ngahuru ki Te Awa Tupua is a strategy document that will identify issues relating to the environmental, social, cultural and economic health and wellbeing of Te Awa Tupua and provide strategies and recommended actions for addressing those issues.


Te Heke Ngahuru will be developed by Te Kōpuka.

Te Kōpuka nā te Awa Tupua

Te Kōpuka is the strategy group made up of people and organisations with interests in the Whanganui River catchment. It includes eight iwi, local and central government, commercial and recreational users and environmental groups.


We know that all parties participating in Te Kōpuka will have different perspectives, strategies and long-term plans. The concept of a common focus for Te Awa Tupua will help Te Kōpuka work collectively towards Te Heke Ngahuru ki Te Awa Tupua - the ‘Whole of River Strategy’.


Te Kōpuka is named for the white manuka, the strong pliable material used to build traditional eel weirs. The pā tuna (eel weir) was a common device for catching eels in rivers, streams and the outlets of lagoons and lakes.


In the 1880s, there were more than 350 pā tuna in the Whanganui River. The weirs were so frequently erected at rapids, where the force of flowing water is much accelerated. The construction of the eel weirs were therefore ingenious – an innovation that directly contributed to the survival of the people.


In the 19th century, European settlers removed these pā tuna to make rivers more navigable. Between 1886 and 1888, over 500 tribal members petitioned the government to save their weirs – but by the turn of the century, almost all were gone.


In using the name Te Kōpuka, we think back to that history of innovation and survival as well as challenge and conflict.  We think of those enduring properties of the white manuka which was used to build the weirs, symbolising connection, cooperation and strength.


We look forward to conversations, strategies and other shared learnings as we come together, to focus on the health and wellbeing of Te Awa Tupua.

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