It is time to acknowledge the historical perspective on the role of mana whenua under the Resource Management Act. Under the previous Town and Country Planning Act the relationship Māori had with ancestral lands was a matter of national importance. There was no reference to “Māori” at all in the Water and Soil Conservation Act although the High Court recognised the relevance of consideration of Te Tiriti, and therefore Māori, in the case brought by Huakina Development Trust in 1986. The RMA 1991 was the means by which all resource management statutes and processes were brought together and essentially repealed 69 laws and amended many more.
At no stage were Māori not a participant in the resource management process. That is a recognition of the status Māori have as the indigenous, first peoples of this country. The legislation always included, as a matter of national importance, the need to recognise and provide for Māori culture and traditions in respect of land, water, sites, wāhi tapu and other taonga. It required giving particular regard to kaitiakitanga and taking into account the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi. These provisions are included in the overarching sections of the RMA against which all applications are assessed.
Every resource consent application requires an assessment of effects. And to assess those effects an applicant employs an appropriately qualified expert – whether the issues to be assessed are traffic, engineering, archaeology, noise, erosion, trees or amenity. And the people best qualified to assess the impact on sites and places of value to Māori are those that have mana whenua over the area. It is not for a planner or interloper to assess the impact on those who have identified a place of value or significance.
Cultural impact assessments have been part of the RMA process for over 20 years. Early experience showed a tendency for developers and applicants to try to avoid any consideration of issues of concern to Māori but thankfully common sense has prevailed and Councils recognise the value of having the best evidence of cultural impact produced by those that have the knowledge and the tools to assess a proposal. What the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan does is outline in some detail when the Council requires a Cultural Impact Assessment and what it expects that Cultural Impact Assessment to include.
The Council and any other person operating under the RMA is required to recognise and provide as a matter of national importance for the relationship of Maori and their culture and traditions with their ancestral lands, water, sites, wāhi tapu and other taonga. It is not a discretion – it is a legal requirement, along with recognising and providing for the protection of outstanding natural features and landscapes and areas of significant indigenous vegetation and historic heritage. This was always part of the RMA and remains a necessary part.
It is very important for people to understand that the involvement of Māori today in the RMA process has been the result of years of legislation, cases, Treaty claims, development of iwi and hapu bodies and building of relationships to the point that Māori, as the indigenous people, are recognised as having a role within the RMA process. The most cursory review of history supports Māori involvement.
Use the experts to assess the effects – and the experts for cultural impacts on sites of value and significance to Māori are those who hold mana whenua. Sometimes it might require meeting one group, sometimes more. That will depend on who has status as mana whenua and the treaty settlement process assists in this identification. It is the time of reconciliation for all New Zealanders and the time of recognition for mana whenua.