Traditionally, the volcanic soil, plentiful fresh water, and rich marine life of the Te Atiawa rohe provided our people with food resources, medicines, and materials that were used for a range of domestic, artistic and ceremonial purposes.
Today, the natural resources of Taranaki contribute significantly to a prosperous regional economy. Taranaki has a strong dairy sector with around 1,731 dairy herds, which together produce 10.4 per cent of New Zealand’s total milk solids. The Taranaki region also contains all of New Zealand’s oil and gas production.
However, many people feel that our ability to take advantage of the region’s natural resources has been severely limited by historic Crown actions. Access to rivers, lakes, forests, swamps, the coast, and all of the associated resources, has been severely affected by the large scale alienation of Te Atiawa lands. In 1937, Parliament passed the Petroleum Act to nationalise all petroleum resources in New Zealand and exclude land owners from receiving royalties from commercial oil fields. Māori leaders and opposition politicians objected at the time that the nationalisation of petroleum deprived Māori of the ability to earn royalties from the petroleum beneath our lands and was contrary to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi.
The ability of Te Atiawa to use natural resources has also been diminished by various kinds of environmental degradation. The development of intensive agriculture has led to extensive deforestation, decreased soil and water quality, and decreased biodiversity in some areas. In the twentieth century, residential, agricultural, and industrial discharges polluted rivers in the Te Atiawa rohe.
For Te Atiawa, a particularly serious grievance arises from the degradation of the extensive offshore reefs that once served as important fishing grounds for many hapu of Te Atiawa. In addition to their value as a source of seafood for themselves, the reefs contributed to the prestige of Te Atiawa by allowing us to provide seafood in abundance to our guests. The rich history and cultural values associated with the reefs also played an important role in defining and perpetuating Te Atiawa culture.
By the 1980s, the pollution of rivers and offshore discharges made it unsafe to gather seafood from many parts of those reefs. For Te Atiawa, the release of material including human waste contaminated not only the food collected from the reefs, but the life-force of the water, and by extension, the spiritual health of the people.