Wednesday, September 19, 2012

So Who Owns the Water?

Preliminary Note: Before beginning, let me say that I believe that in light of the Treaty of Waitangi, the Government should consult Māori on major decisions related to NZ’s natural resources. Whether we like it or not, that is part of NZ’s essential bi-culturalism. What I have written below is critiquing the claims to “ownership” of the waters of NZ in the discussion, from a biblical perspective.
NZ is embroiled in a great debate over this question; who owns the water? Māori contesting the asset-sales claim that they own the water. John Key suggests no one owns the water. Well, let me humbly suggest that neither are correct from a Christian biblical point of view; it is simple, God owns the water.

That God owns the waters of the world is clear in such verses as “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, for he founded it on the seas, and established it on the waters” (Ps 24:1). This is quoted by Paul in 1 Cor 10:26 indicating that Christians believed in this. In Gen 1 waters are explicitly mentioned in the creation narrative a number of times, water an essential aspect of the created order. As Exod 20:11 says, he created the seas (Exod 20:11). Or Ps 95:5 which says, “The sea is his, for he made it, and the dry land, which his hands have formed.”

Psalm 33:6–8 speaks of God’s creation to which humanity should respond with reverence not radical claims of exclusive ownership:

“By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth. He gathers the waters of the sea into jars; he puts the deep into storehouses. Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the people of the worlds revere him. For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm” (cf. Ps 65:7; 74:15–19; 89:19; 104:10; 107:33; 135:6; 146:6; Isa 40:12; 41:18; 51:10, 15; Amos 5:8).

God demonstrated his control over the waters at the time of Noah (Gen 6). God’s authority over water is seen at the plagues of Egypt as the Nile turned to blood and fish died (Exod 7:17–24), and at the Exodus and Jordan as Israel passed through the waters untouched enroute to the land (Exod 14:16–29; Josh 3:8–16). God provided water for Israel in the wilderness (e.g. Exod 17:2–6). Jesus demonstrated his dominion over the seas by calming them, and walking upon them, turning water into wine and his divine knowledge of what was in the waters (Mark 4:35–41; 6:45–51, Luke 5:1–11; John 2:1–11; 21:1–7). The NT confirms the notion of God’s creation and sovereignty over the waters of the world (Acts 4:24; 14:15; Rev 10:6; 14:7). Jesus lordship is over all of creation.

So, whatever should be decided about the waters of NZ and who should be consulted in terms of its use, or indeed the wind, or the solar energy, it is not the possession of anyone and this should not form the basis of the argument. All citizens of NZ under its government are stewards of the waters of the nation on God’s behalf. In Gen 1:27 humans, created in the image of God, are given dominion over the animals of the world and are to subdue the earth. They are not given ownership of the world, its waters, or any part of it. We are to rule on God’s behalf under his sovereignty. If we choose to claim ownership we usurp God’s rule and ownership. 

While one can understand the standpoint of anyone who claims ownership on the basis of prior arrival in a particular land, it doesn’t stack up. This debate should be conducted on other grounds, specifically the Treaty. What rights do Māori have over the natural resources of this nation on the basis of prior inhabitation and the Treaty? Now that is the question. That is much more difficult to answer. As I said above, I think at the least it means that there should be genuine consultation over such things to maintain national unity. Whatever the answer, from a Christian perspective at least, the debate is not over ownership. 


Frank Ritchie said...

I agree with you, Mark.

It doesn't stack up with my understanding of the Maori world-view for a statement to have been issued saying 'Maori own the water.' It would have lined up for it to be said that Maori have stewardship of the water, but not ownership. I understand where legal ownership is entered into in order to protect that sense of guardianship but it caused a bit of dissonance for me to hear a claim of ownership over water.

Anonymous said...

Do Maori own the rain or only once it lands?

Lisa Humphrey said...

We do . The taxpayers /All the people of New Zealand. The governent of NZ who represent us as a whole. .Who owns the sunshine and the wind?

Howard Carter said...

It's interesting it was only when the Government decided to sell of Bastion point to make some money did Maori land rights come to the fore, with the bastion point occupation. It is only now that the government is selling the ability to generate electricity from water to others that the right to the water comes up.

To say it belongs to everyone is different than it can be sold off as an asset. It is important from ajustice perspective to have this debate and for maori to benifit from a resource that up untill recently was seen as being for the common good.

People also talk of the wars of the 21st century being waged over access to water... we had better get used to sorting out these issues in peaceful and just ways.

Frank Ritchie said...

Out of interest - who owns the water in the plastic bottles sold at exorbitant prices?

Mark Keown said...

I can't help believing that God owns the water in its natural state. The government acts on God's behalf as his ministers/servants, and so on our behalf governs the stewardship of the resource. So, we end up where Lisa is. The government is in a precarious position trapped between those who believe that no-one has a priority over another on any basis (e.g. Maori), and those who claim the converse. Glad I am not in the government working on this one. Then there is the question of use of the resource. That is what we are talking about here. Even if Maori have priority, this is not about ownership, but use. It is all very tenuous to me. Yes, who owns the sunshine? Wind? I find the whole thing worrying. All over the world, ethnic divisions are growing.

John Phillips said...

Good post Mark. I spend a very small amount of time drifting on the periphery of Maori communities who are restoring their language. My perception is that there is a widening of ethnic division and a hardening of rhetoric within both Maori and Pakeha communities. There is a deep well of goodwill and in this country but it is not infinite...I am inclined to ignore the 'who owns the water' debate and try to build relationships between ethnic communities. It's easy to diss 'the pakeha' or 'the maories' when you don't know any. Far harder when you have eaten, sang, prayed and played sport together

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