Mana whenua head North to oppose oil drilling

It was good to hear the news that a mana whenua delegation is heading north, a long way north, to make their views known about the proposed  oil drilling off the Northland coast.

The roopu will be representing iwi and hapu from Te Hiku o Te Ika, including Ngāti Kurī, Ngāti Kahu and Te Rārawa, as they bear a message to Norway that Statoil, who have been granted a prospecting license in Te Reinga Basin, are simply not welcome and should depart forthwith. They will lay their concerns in front of Norway’s indigenous Saami Parliament, a semi-autonomous body which has a range of responsibilities and some authority delegated to it by the Norwegian Government.

Statoil should be in no doubt that iwi and hapu are deeply concerned about the risks associated with off-shore drilling in the highly dynamic marine environment off Northland, which is described by the industry as a ‘frontier’ for exploration. The company has been on something of a ‘charm offensive’ around Northland since 2013, but have had little success in persuading Maori (or indeed most non-Maori communities) that any benefits would outweigh the associated risk.  Vice-President of exploration Pat Haremo was honest enough to admit publically that there would no employment opportunities for Northlanders for at least six years, and if any did eventuate it would be limited to ‘transport and catering’.

A meeting in 2014 was disrupted in a rather dramatic way, with the actions of a Maori Battalion veteran symbolising the depth of opposition to the prospecting plans.

Mana whenua have been at the forefront of rallies, hikoi, a protest flotilla, and other forms of direct action to make their message plain – as kaitiaki of the area it is their right and obligation to say no to an activity that poses such significant risk to the marine environment, with longer term implications for climate change.

We can expect that mana whenua will get a sympathetic hearing from Saami; it remains to be seen whether Statoil, owned by the Norwegian government, will be similarly accommodating of their wishes.