Friday, 31 August 2012

A Proprietary Interest

To Name Is To Own: Now known as Trotter's Creek this little river in North Otago was originally called Te Awakakokomuka. What became of the customary rights attached to the Maori users of this waterway after its name was changed? 
 
TROTTER’S CREEK tumbles out of the Horse Range, chuckles through Trotter’s Gorge, and empties itself into the Pacific Ocean under the looming cliffs of the Moeraki peninsula at Katiki Beach. Along the way the little river runs (in the remarkably poetic language of an Otago Regional Council pamphlet) “with large slow, deep pools combined with shallow riffles.”
 
I would be lying if I said that on the rare occasions I drive over and alongside Trotter’s Creek I do not feel a proprietary tug. The coast of North Otago is and will always be my turangawaewae – my place to stand – and the geographical features that bear my family’s name only reinforce this sense of belonging. It’s where I was born. It’s where I hope to be buried.
 
But is Trotter’s Creek really Trotter’s creek? Can a family – or an individual – really lay claim to the water that falls from the sky, or the riverbeds over which it flows back to the sea? My family took possession of the land through which Trotter’s Creek flows in 1851. As the years passed, the name it bore before their arrival, Te Awakakokomuka, gradually fell into disuse. What cannot be disputed, however, is that the people who lived along the North Otago coast before the Magnet dropped anchor at Waikouaiti in 1840, also knew those “slow, deep pools” and “shallow riffles”. Wading between the Koromiko bushes, bearing home the river’s bounty, they, too, would have felt a proprietary tug.
 
A thousand miles to the north and thirty-eight days before my great-great-great-grandfather, William Sinclair Trotter, was rowed ashore from the Magnet, Captain William Hobson of the Royal Navy, acting on behalf of England’s Queen, Victoria, had promised the Maori tribes of New Zealand: “the full, exclusive and undisturbed possession of the Lands and Estates, Forests, Fisheries, and other properties which they may collectively or individually possess, so long as it is their wish and desire to retain the same in their possession”.
 
William Sinclair Trotter: Lands and estates, forests and fisheries of his own.
 
I doubt if William cared very much what promises Captain Hobson had made in the Bay of Islands. Waitangi was a long way from Waikouaiti, where the population of the local tribes had been thinned by war and disease, death and dispossession. In Caithness, in Scotland’s far north, he had helped the local squire, Sir John Sinclair, instruct his tenants in the husbandry of the hardy Cheviot sheep that William's father, Alexander, had driven up from the Scottish borders. He planned to turn these shepherding skills to his own advantage in this new country. Here he would carve out lands and estates, forests and fisheries of his own.
 
We call it “property” and fence it ‘round, not only with No.8 wire, but also with laws, covenants, easements and abstraction rights. This is “ours” we say, and all those things that we cannot fence-in or pin-down – like the sunlight and the wind, the rivers and the waves – we declare common property. But the products we make from the commons: grass, milk, electrical energy; they remain ours to buy and sell.
 
We have forgotten that Trotter’s Creek was once Te Awakakokomuka. Our laws, covenants, easements and abstractions have little to say about the customary rights attached to its waters in the years before it ran through the “property” of my hardy forebears. Before the Magnet’s anchor dropped, Te Awakakokomuka was something else, not “property” exactly, but something very close. The tangata whenua who paddled canoes along its banks; who had names for each of its “slow, deep pools” and “shallow riffles”; who snared the birds that flitted among the koromiko bushes lining its banks and trapped the eels which lurked beneath them; they had a stake in Te Awakakokomuka.
 
The difference between a little creek in North Otago and Waikato’s mighty river is really only a matter of scale. The Waitangi Tribunal recommends these long-neglected questions concerning water be answered – definitively. Proprietary “tugs” are transitory. Proprietary “interests” may prove more enduring.
 
This essay was originally published in The Dominion Post, The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 31 August 2012.

29 comments:

guerilla surgeon said...

Okay I'll bite. I couldn't make head nor tail of what you are actually saying pleasant though the column is. Are you saying Maori should be allowed proprietary interest in water? Because you're not exactly known for supporting Maori interests at all it seems to me.

Chris Trotter said...

Yes.

guerilla surgeon said...

Good, but be prepared for a slew of letters saying that you're splitting the country, and this will set race relations back 100 years.

ak said...

Proprietary “interests” may prove more enduring.

Ae. Well perhaps they should do. Particularly if they involved more than five hundred years of intimate interraction and dependency for life itself; as opposed to....well nothing, actually, bar maudlin reminiscence. Sorry, nothing actually.

James McGehan said...

Chris, your family bought the land over which the water flows, and it became "Trotter's". they own the use of the water on their land. Once past their land they have no further interest in it. Likewise any other group in a similar position has the exact same rights and interests while the water is on their land and none when it moves downstream. There is nothing complicated about this: if you'd like to ask the good folk of Otago to resume the use of the original name go for it. The name won't change the owners' interests, but it may dismay others in the family to see you toss their history aside .

jh said...

Maori were hunter gatherers whereas farming is able to increase the carrying capacity of the land many times over. Farming requires enclosure and ownership of stock and crops.

I presume the principle you are invoking here Chris is "finders keepers" as it applies to territorial space or if not the Treaty of Waitangi made within the power imbalance of the moment in NZ?

jh said...

Ae. Well perhaps they should do. Particularly if they involved more than five hundred years of intimate interraction and dependency for life itself; as opposed to....well nothing, actually, bar maudlin reminiscence. Sorry, nothing actually.
.........
Maori were here longer and in that time were intimately responsible for the fastest mass extinctions of a mega fauna in human history, not to mention burning of forests as demonstrated by core samples of lake beds in the South Island.
My Grandfather was a farmer and having intimately acquainted himself with the land he loved, replanted his gully in native bush during his retirement.
I can think of lots of example of intimate aquaintence with the land my non Maori; Harold Wellman comes to mind, also Fred the fresh water ecologist.

guerilla surgeon said...

James. Water is a bit different. 'Once it flows'? What happens if you use it all and it doesn't flow. That causes conflicts all over the world.

guerilla surgeon said...

Not to deny that others cannot become intimately attached to the land, but we must be careful not to fall into the 'grass skirt and cannibalism' defence of Pakeha settlement. Like the 'no true Scotsman' defence, it doesn't really stand scrutiny.

jh said...

Not to deny that others cannot become intimately attached to the land, but we must be careful not to fall into the 'grass skirt and cannibalism' defence of Pakeha settlement.
................
I didn't mention "grass skirts and cannibalism". I did mention the fastest mass extinction of a mega fauna in human history and destruction of large swathes of forest and the fact that hunter gathering only supported a small population. What it shows is that while Maori were here first they weren't especially virtuous as far as the rest of the whenua was concerned and that is important because of the portrayal of Maori as being in a state of benevolent balance with the environment (among other things).
Do you see Pakeha settlement as indefensible gorilla surgeon?

ernährungsplan said...

very good post

guerilla surgeon said...

Indefensible? No. But there is absolutely no point in mentioning extinctions. We all did it. As soon as we left Africa, which is probably why we had to move towards farming in the first place. The first thing that grass skirts and cannibalism always suggests is that Maori weren't virtuous. It is a defence mechanism. Of course they weren't, but nobody was. The fact that they had achieved some sort of balance was the result of hard-won experience. While this sort of thing could be seen as stagnation, who knows, in the long run it might be better than lurching from one crisis to the next looking for a quick fix for environmental problems or ignoring them altogether. And to be honest, I prefer them to be in charge of our water, because they see it's not just a commodity.

jh said...

but are those Maoris these Maoris?
These Maori dye their hair, use affected accents, speak slowly and mysteriously, claim "te ao Maori" (living in a different world with different truth) and the left suck it up.
Your Great grandfather had a proprietary interest in Trotters Creek,
justified in human terms by the fact that he increased the human carrying capacity but you yourself can't base your proprietary claim on that alone, neither can these Maori.

jh said...

" The fact that they had achieved some sort of balance was the result of hard-won experience. "
.............................
oh come on! how do we know that the balance wasn't the result of over exploitation, lack of technology but with limited local conservation of (say) toheroa? Seals disappeared around the coast in pre European times. The idea of a pre European Department of Conservation is a modern day fantasy.
It is true what you say regards we all did it (caused extinctions) but when we evolved into a modern industrial society we all did it too. It is wrong/racist to credit Maori with special credentials regarding environmental management.
I would add that traditional knowledge re titi has been tested by scientists and (amongst other things) it was shown that sophisticated statistical testing of the records kept by the birders showed up things they had missed.

guerilla surgeon said...

I think it's agreed, that Maori had achieved some sort of balance. Otherwise it would have been like Easter Island. I never said they were conservationists in that sense but they had to conserve resources to simply survive. Again - otherwise it would have been like Easter Island. Which it wasn't. And of course they're not the same – God why do I have to say this – we are not the same as we were in the 18th century either, even though we were just as warlike and cannibalistic. And they didn't have science, gosh what a surprise. Neither did most of the world, and we were still doing alchemy and burning witches. What you're basically saying is there different so you don't like them. They don't have the same values as you, and you can't handle that. You want everybody to be the same – ain't gonna happen.

jh said...

It isn't clear whether Chris is citing the treaty here and or customary rights.
" Captain William Hobson of the Royal Navy, acting on behalf of England’s Queen, Victoria, had promised the Maori tribes of New Zealand: “the full, exclusive and undisturbed possession of the Lands and Estates, Forests, Fisheries, and other properties which they may collectively or individually possess, so long as it is their wish and desire to retain the same in their possession”.
that rule could be anywhere, as i have said elsewhere, the egg yolk is what we own privately and the white is what Maori own (eg foreshore and seabed) under the treaty.
The treaty was made under an imbalance of power rather than with due thought to the consequences and the officials of the colonial office had no right to expect settlers to accept those terms.

that brings us to customary rights. Chris's Maori are intimately aquainted with Trotters Creek then disspossed but ancestors of the Pakeha and local Maori reappear to claim ownership rights to the Waitaki.The tribe here, is treated as though the gone, dispossessed (or whatever) were the same people. It is also claimed that these proprietary rights are not selfish but due to "te ao Maori". Like believing in Father Christmas we Maori see ourselves as the river etc, etc.
As has been pointed out "and was not the geographical entity known as NZ not entirely at one time the property of Maori collectives. So if Moari own the rivers why not the lakes, foreshore and seabed, mountains?

jh said...

guerilla surgeon:
What you're basically saying is there different so you don't like them. They don't have the same values as you, and you can't handle that. You want everybody to be the same – ain't gonna happen.
.......
what I'm saying is biculturalism is a phoney political construct and comes with pecuniary advantage. You however have bought the virtuous Maori "balanced with the environment.

You just have to look at the mess in Fiji. Bainimarana sees the injustice in hereditary power (tino rangitiratanga) and is taking steps to break it.

jh said...

guerilla surgeon said...
I think it's agreed, that Maori had achieved some sort of balance. Otherwise it would have been like Easter Island.
...............
New Zealand is much wetter that Easter Island (we are in the "roaring forties which hit the Southern Alps almost at right angles) and much larger. Maori did burn the forests on the drier eastern side however. Environmental non destruction was due to geography rather than Maori conservation.

jh said...

Even after WW1 farmers were beaten by the forest (ref. Bridge to Nowhere). Agricultural technology fixed that.
Nothing to do with Maori achievement.

Anonymous said...

A shame of course that the Otago Regional Council recommended a minimum flow on Trotters Creek of about 10 litres a second, such that the thing can't even maintain an open estuary with the sea, all for the profit of a prospective dairy developer on the lower flats.

Chris Trotter said...

More than a shame - an outrage.

I wrote about this in an earlier posting:
http://bowalleyroad.blogspot.co.nz/2010/07/stemming-flow.html

I would be frightened to look at what they've done to the Trotter's Creek I remember.

guerilla surgeon said...

I said nothing about virtuous, just some sort of balance – held together by fairly rigid property rights, and warfare. A virtue of necessity maybe, but that's all. I think you're buying into the whole idea of left-wing people creating noble savages.

I can't see how anything can be a phoney political construct– in one sense or political constructs are phoney. Bicultural is no different to any other. And if it comes with pecuniary advantages, perhaps Maori might see this as some compensation for being disadvantaged for 150 years, about which very few parking are bothered to protest – if indeed they knew about it or cared. You might just as well say that capitalism is a phoney political construct with pecuniary advantages. You seem quite happy with that.

I just don't see why some party are feel an overwhelming need to establish that Maori were human rather than saints. It is self evident anyway, but this constant denigration seems to cover either a certain guilt, or a certain jealousy. Can't understand it myself.

Andrew Mahon said...

Maori were not hunter-gatherers. They were a settled civilisation.

jh said...

Maori are up themselves: "we are tangatawhenua": (the people of the land), whereas we are "tauiwi" (foriegners in this land).
Maori claim ownership of the foreshore and seabed, lakes rivers, etc, etc. What's more they claim we who brought the modern age to them destroyed their lovely tribal life style, as if everyone's ancestors didn't go through that same process at some stage. Maori are a tool of the disaffected sections on the left to bash the rest of us who wake up in society each day the way it is to go off to our mundane jobs.

GS said...

Dammit dictation software and lack of editing. Among others that should be 'pakeha'. :-) Nothing to do with parking, which is another subject altogether.

jh said...

"I just don't see why some party are feel an overwhelming need to establish that Maori were human rather than saints. It is self evident anyway, but this constant denigration seems to cover either a certain guilt, or a certain jealousy. Can't understand it myself."
.......
Have you ever heard: "with Maori it's about mana" (as opposed to more base behaviours such as power and greed)? Or the suggestion that Maoris are driven to perform "kaitiaki responsibliies" rather than plain old own and have the lions share of the rights?

Chris Trotter said...

A "settled civilisation" Andrew?

I think we may have some taxonomic difficulties here.

"Civilisation" - meaning the work of the "civis", or city - can hardly be the word you're looking for.

Civilisations, both historically and anthropologically, are distinguished by at least six key characteristics: the central administrative and cultural role played by towns and cities; a high degree of economic and social specialisation; the mastery of monumental construction techniques; the use of pottery; the smelting of metals; and the use of written records.

Certainly, there have been civilisations in which one or two of these characteristics were missing (The Inca Empire, for example) but NONE of them were present in Maori society when Cook arrived here in 1769 - although the speed with which Maori adopted the tools and practices of the new arrivals was remarkable.

I think you need to find a better descriptor.

guerilla surgeon said...

What's more they claim we who brought the modern age to them destroyed their lovely tribal life style, as if everyone's ancestors didn't go through that same process at some stage.

I thought we get round to this eventually, of course – 'when we arrived they was all sitting round eating each other and wearing grass skirts.' The implication being that they owe us for modernity. Well if that's the case why are we paying royalties to the Greeks for democracy? Or for that matter to the Spanish for the guitar :-). And the Mana / Kaitiaki things – haven't you may be thought that it's just a difference. I know the right doesn't like difference, especially if it seems to get some sort of advantage or power, but you can live with it. And if they seem greedy to you well – I guess you capitalists have taught them well.

jh said...

I thought we get round to this eventually, of course – 'when we arrived they was all sitting round eating each other and wearing grass skirts.' The implication being that they owe us for modernity
.......
no you are completely wrong. I'm saying they blame us for modernity and the social isolation bought by the division of labour in an industrial society, when industrial scale production is needed for the much larger populations.

"And the Mana / Kaitiaki things – haven't you may be thought that it's just a difference."

A learned difference. I would be more inclined to believe in a world view where the subjects lived in isolation, but it just so happens that Maori claim a set of ideas that sweaten ownership and control of space and resources.Again it is racist to assume Maori are more or less likely to behave better or worse than anyone else in these circumstances.As for:"the right doesn't like difference, especially if it seems to get some sort of advantage or power,", it is the poor non Maori who will suffer most as the wealth from the natural resources is divertedvny 106.