U.S. Water News Online
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — The New Zealand government signed a multimillion-dollar deal with an indigenous Maori tribe to clean up the tribe's Waikato River, one of the most polluted waterways in the country.
The 300 million New Zealand dollars (US$215 million) agreement, signed by leaders of the Waikato-Tainui tribe and Treaty Negotiations Minister Michael Cullen, makes the tribe a major player in the cleanup of the 350 kilometer-long (220 mile-long) river, New Zealand's longest.
Signed at the Turangawaewae Marae meeting house on the banks of the Waikato River and home to the Maori King, Tuheitia, the agreement provides a NZ$210 million (US$151 million) contestable fund over 30 years to pay for cleanup of the river.
The deal also settles a grievance claim by the tribe dating back to the 1860s settler era, when the Waikato-Tainui people had their North Island lands and river rights illegally confiscated by the government.
The tribe recently had its traditional ownership of the river restored.
Under the new deal, the tribe will receive $NZ80 million (US$57 million) for cleaning up and managing the river. Details of the tribe's use of the cash were not immediately available.
In 1995, the tribe was paid NZ$170 million (US$122 million) to settle its grievances over huge tracts of land along the river that were confiscated for European settler farmers.
The Waikato (whose name means "flowing water") say the river is a sacred resource. They also believe the river is inhabited by "taniwha," evil spirits who lurk at dangerous bends and spots along its length to lure in unsuspecting humans.
Cullen said the cleanup of the river was "an issue of national importance" and called it "one of the most important environmental undertakings in New Zealand's history."
Hundreds of historic grievance claims by New Zealand Maori tribes, dating back to the 1840 start of European settlement, have yet to be settled by the government.
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