One Watershed at a Time: River of New Zealand Develops Bioregional State Principles
|New Zealand; North Island, Whanganui River|
The Whanganui, the "river with rights" is hardly the point of this post: it is the social institutions around these granted rights. They are an interesting mix of centralized and decentralized similar to the recommendations of the bioregional state.
In the specific context of New Zealand's North Island where this river is located, the decentralized institutions of ecological self-interest are the traditional geographic, regional, and long-term indigenous traditional iwi groups of the native Maori--around 15% (640,000) of the full New Zealand population. The centralized institutions are from the wider New Zealand state government. It is a nested arrangement.
In this particular watershed of the Whanganui, New Zealanders have come to implement a situation where the state is required to work with these decentralized civic groups on policy decisions in the plural about the river's management or developmental changes. For a U.S. comparison, it would be like all state governments legislating that all riverine policies would have to be made in consultation with civic waterkeeper associations developing across the United States from 1999--and now across the world. It's a fine developmental model that holds both human virtues and ecological virtues entwined, against degradative state politics.
Similar dynamics of more representative cross-regional developmental policies have been created institutionally across several states in the past few years. New Zealand's watershed based land solutions for sustainable development through political institutional change is similar to the nested centralized/decentralized combinations of political institutional change that led to a very sustainable oceanic Maine lobster industry from the 1990s--one of the very few fisheries whose catch is growing under human management instead of being destroyed. It is equally similar to the Bolivian state's recent changes and some aspects of Ecuador. So now, New Zealand joins the club developing this bioregional state approach, with one of its rivers.
Such a watershed jurisdiction additionally implies a judicial dynamic of the bioregional state: downstream groups have greater rights to veto or to impinge on legislation or development about the watershed as a whole, checking and balancing against bad degradative upstream behavior and choices. In other words, if externalites of health, ecology or economy happen in the Whanganui watershed now, the downstream iwi groups can complain as a wider bloc against singular iwi or other state or private land uses upsteam they dislike in the conjoined watershed system as a whole.
The Decentralized Civic Institutions: New Zealand's Maori Iwi Groups
|North Island Maori Iwi (with Whanganui River and tributaries shown)|
Iwi form the largest social units in Māori culture. There are approximately 100 of them. The word iwi means "'peoples' or 'nations'. In the work of European writers which treat iwi and hapū (extended lineage family) as parts of a hierarchical structure, it has been used to mean "tribe," or confederation of tribes, however "peoples" is considered a "better gloss" because "it avoids the structural connotations" of the tribal terms.
Iwi literally means "bone". Māori may refer to returning home after travelling or living elsewhere as "going back to the bones" — literally to the burial-areas of the ancestors. Some iwi cluster into larger groupings based on genealogical tradition, known as waka (literally: "canoes", with reference to the original migration voyages), but these super-groupings generally serve symbolic rather than practical functions. Many iwi even operate bilingual English and Māori radio stations targeting local members and others or have websites.
Each iwi has a generally recognised territory (rohe--pictured above), but many of these overlap, sometimes completely. This has added a layer of complication to the long-running discussions and court cases about how to resolve historical Treaty-claims. The length of coastline emerged as one factor in the final (2004) legislation to allocate fishing-rights in settlement of claims relating to commercial fisheries. Iwi have been a prospective institutional and cultural vehicle for social movements of self-determination. For instance, the "Rules of the Maori Party" (Māori Party Constitution) mentions in its preamble "the dreams and aspirations of tangata whenua to achieve self-determination for whānau, hapū and iwi within their own land." Some Tūhoe envisage self-determination in specifically iwi-oriented terms.
However, hardly all Maori identify with their traditional iwi lineages and regionality. As in other places, increasing urbanization has led to a situation where a significant percentage of Maori do not identify with an iwi or are identified to particular landscapes. (This is one rationale for the development of the bioregional state's CDI and CEI institutions to (re)create a voluntary context of regional identification and sharing both culturally and materially respectively, once more.) The following extract from a 2000 High Court of New Zealand judgment (discussing the process of settling fishing-rights) illustrates some of the issues:
...81 percent of Māori now live in urban areas, at least one-third live outside their tribal influence, more than one-quarter do not know their iwi or for some reason do not choose to affiliate with it, at least 70 percent live outside the traditional tribal territory and these will have difficulties, which in many cases will be severe, in both relating to their tribal heritage and in accessing benefits from the settlement. It is also said that many Māori reject tribal affiliation because of a working class unemployed attitude, defiance and frustration. Related but less important factors, are that a hapu membership [a surnamed division of a iwi, linked to a common ancestor] may belong to more than one iwi, a particular hapu may have belonged to different iwi at different times, the tension caused by the social and economic power moving from the iwi down rather than from the hapu up, and the fact that many iwi do not recognise spouses and adoptees who do not have kinship links.In the 2006 census, 16 percent of the 643,977 people who claimed Māori ancestry did not even know their iwi. Another 11% did not state their iwi, or only stated a general geographical region (rohe) or merely gave a canoe-name (their waka historical origin).
So in New Zealand despite dissipation of many, there are interesting deep bioregional affiliations of hundreds of thousands of people being maintained that precede the European inspired national state.
Even though after the Second World War, Māori were discouraged from speaking their own language (te reo Māori) in schools and workplaces, there has been a revival of the language and evidence of regionalist cultural affiliations in Maori particularly from the 1980s. Maori language has always existed, though during state discouragement of speaking it, it existed only as a community language in a few remote areas. The Maori language has recently undergone a process of revitalization, being declared one of New Zealand's official languages in 1987, and it is spoken by 4.1 percent of the population. There are now even Māori language immersion schools and two Māori Television channels, the only nationwide television channels to have the majority of their prime-time content delivered in Māori. Many places have officially been given dual Maori and English names in recent years. Even New Zealand's "North Island" and "South Island" may be given alternative Maori names soon.
Educational curricular change is important in sustainability as well. New Zealand is on its way toward a bioregional state model in education as well--both in its child-centric education as well as much bioregional knowledge being imparted through publicly-supported Maori educational institutions as options for all citizens. In the education system of New Zealand generally based on child-centric Montessori school curricula, this is a large difference between this country's educational policies and the Prussian models that were expanded worldwide even in the United States that are mostly designed to cripple most people intellectually to make them more controllable. Second, in New Zealand, there are even "wānanga" choices of bioregional institutions for high education. These are publicly owned tertiary institutions that provide education in a Māori cultural context. Section 162 of the Education Act 1989 (re-affirmed by the Waitangi Tribunal in 2005) specifies that wānanga resemble mainstream universities in many ways. As of 2009, wānanga offer certificates, diplomas, and bachelor-level degrees, with some wānanga providing programs in specialized areas up to doctorate level. Wānanga educational programs are accredited through the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) and the Ministry of Education, and are partly governed by New Zealand's Tertiary Education Commission (TEC). In traditional times the word wānanga conveyed meanings related to highly evolved knowledge, lore, occult arts, and also "forum" in the sense of a discussion to arrive at deeper understanding.
In New Zealand culture at large, some artists release Māori language songs and the Māori tradition-based art of kapa haka (song and dance) has made a resurgence. Even the Polynesian sport of waka ama (oceanic outrigger canoe) racing has increased in popularity and is now an international sport involving teams from all over the Pacific.
Plus, this bioregionalism is poetically seen in Maori language itself. First, as said above iwi literally means "bone". Māori may refer to returning home after travelling or living elsewhere as "going back to the bones" — literally to the burial-areas of the ancestors. Second, rohe is the traditional geographic territory of an iwi, which can overlap with others. Third, within the iwi, the term hapū relates to the extended family lineage from a common ancestor. Hapū's literal meaning is "pregnant"--a metaphor for the genealogical connection that unites the members of the hapū. Fourth, similarly, even the Māori word for land, whenua, can mean "placenta"--metaphorically indicating the connection between the people and the land.
The Centralized State Institutions
It probably helps that New Zealand is one of the least corrupt democratic countries. As of 2011, the country was ranked 5th in the strength of its democratic institutions and 1st in government transparency and lack of corruption in the world, by Transparency International. Since the bioregional state argues that much environmental degradation comes from corruption, solutions to corruption (and avoiding elite distractions that claim to be green) are a major part of sustainability--particularly through many greater ecological checks and balances against such corruption. Moreover, New Zealand has a high level of civic participation, with 79% voter turnout during the most recent elections, compared to an OECD average of 72%. Furthermore, 67% of New Zealanders say they trust their political institutions, far higher than the OECD average of 56%.
Much of the Whanganui River was already within the Whanganui National Park and protected by the state, so this is quite a compromise to allow group civic/state cooperation for development and changes within the Whanganui. It means the state has buckled and decentralized some of its jurisdiction to ongoing deliberation of other civic groups formally that are really hardly part of the state: the iwi. In this watershed now though the iwi are part of the state.
However, there is nothing romantic about giving rivers rights. It's very pragmatic. It is merely another way to legally recognize human varied ecological self-interests that can be used to develop better developmental policy based on different regional interests being listened to instead of destroyed. It is giving ourselves more regional rights against any degradative state politics. Why limit such civic management to only one watershed or only to iwi deliberation? Use the CDI and CEI to allow everyone to participate in such arrangements: truly two institutions required in every watershed in the world.
A hollowed-out, centralized mass politics that came in with the European nationalist state concepts demoted many far more participative regionalisms of before. In many cases 'nationalism' was a reduction of democratic rights and privileges on the regional level. The bioregional state argues that such a hollowed-out sense of unrepresentative jurisdictions innately creates environmental degradation through corruption of the placeless levels of politics being unchecked by particular regional real ecological self-interest. As quoted in a chapter on this topic in Toward a Bioregional State:
The nation-state was typically inflicted on the widespread more localized frameworks of representation in the early 1800s—taking much localist representation and practices of political participation away in the process of nation-state consolidation of jurisdictions, instead of bringing more representative local ones.
I am arguing that it is the nation-state’s unfortunate removal of much of this subsidiary jurisdiction and localization of politics which has been very influential in explaining why abstract formal democratic frameworks are innately environmental degradative, despite a discourse around nation-states as being more representative frameworks than what came before.
To bring back more jurisdictional localism through the bioregional state is the route towards sustainability. In other words, a bioregional state is less creating something entirely novel in terms of human jurisdictions, it is only adding to the nation-state what it removed and shallowed in its initial consolidation: many more examples of localist jurisdictions and localist citizenship participation which were replaced with clientelistic participation in the nation-state context.
The ideas in Toward a Bioregional State if anything are a maturing and filling out of the promise of the macro-state context of nation-state representation, adding what it has systemically and ecologically left out and left divided and conquered and unvoiced: the multiple particular localisms based on bioregions and watershed based developmental externalities in human health, ecology, and economics.
Addressing this politics that is there already is a reflexive manner of dealing with the unsustainable aspects of the nation-state’s frameworks.
Sustainability is seen as requiring a widening and a ‘spatialization’ (or localization) of citizenship, something that has been demoted in general with the social construction of citizenship in the nation-states of the past 200 years. What does this mean? It means that nation-state citizenship, typically defined as a relationship between an individual and the state in many cases was a demotion and a ‘thinning’ of an assortment of special responsibilities and ‘rights’ held by other forms of state/citizen relationships. As Charles Tilly, the historical sociologist, writes in a recently edited book Extending Citizenship, Reconfiguring States:
It would have been convenient to us if nation-states had maintained existing localization of citizenship where it existed, or had a means of expanding simultaneously a locally specified and a nation-state ‘general’ citizenship.As Prak [in the same volume] also establishes, between 1750 and 1850, Europe’s consolidating states did not so much absorb these earlier forms of citizenship[,] as subordinate or even smash them in favor of relatively uniform categorization and obligation at a national scale. State consolidation thus thinned citizenship significantly for those who already participated in its rights and obligations at the smaller scale. For them, national citizenship offered a narrower range of rights and obligations than had the burghers’ militia service, participation in public ceremonies, supervision of poor relief, moral oversight, and involvement in public finance. For those who had previously lacked substantial local or regional citizenship, however, the establishment of national citizenship brought significant gains in rights at the cost of expanded obligations to national authorities. Much of the widespread Western transition from indirect to direct rule between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries consisted, precisely, of national citizenship’s establishing priority over local and regional systems of obligation. Those changes squeezed out autonomous middlemen….or integrated then directly into national administrative hierarchies.
New Zealand's large minority of Maori indigenous peoples and their historic rohe contexts of regionality and overlapping are just such a context where the idea of a national state based on a different ethnicity brought significant loses to Maori local autonomy and rejection of all their political and land rights for many years. Additionally, the conflicts both between the state and iwi (and between iwi themselves) encouraged a greater formalized framework of deliberation it seems about this to be implemented. The Whanganui development mentioned here is only one of many frameworks of more 'affirmitized' (deliberative democratic regionalism and representation of all contentious groups without elite gatekeeping) redeveloped slowly over the past two decades in a nested fashion in New Zealand. In modern-day New Zealand, iwi groups may exercise significant political power in the recovery and management of land and of other assets. An example before has been the 1997 settlement between the New Zealand Government and the iwi Ngāi Tahu, compensating that iwi for various losses of the rights guaranteed under the Treaty of Waitangi of 1840.
Long before the novel "treaty of Whanganui" (so to speak), iwi affairs have had a very real impact on New Zealand politics and society. A 2004 attempt by some iwi to test in court their ownership of the seabed and foreshore areas, polarized public opinion.
Conclusion: Study the Process Instead of the Outcome Only
In conclusion, study well these handful of nested bioregional state examples developing worldwide.
They are institutional examples to learn from to impart and to implant their lessons elsewhere--particularly the lessons on the ongoing slow successful political process that led to their creation instead of just concentrating on the outcome in this news below. Recognize that this watershed level jurisdiction of civic groups within it has been developing a long while in the New Zealand context. For places without it, learn how to (re)build it through the bioregional state's CDI and CEI institutions in any watershed in the world--toward this institutionalization of a community's ecological self-interest.
New Zealand's ongoing combative interaction between strong culturally autonomous iwi (as a green movement) versus a centralized state (that is hardly always integrative) is actually the exact contentious dynamic noted by Dryzek et al. as developing a political dynamic and process toward more successful forms of friction filled interactions that creates a deepening of green politics:
My Summary of Dryzek and other's book Green States and Social Movements
12: 48 min.
This is a free seven part video lecture series on Environmental Sociology...[Fourth session:] (2/6) Dryzek et al, "Green states and Social Movements": four different views of how the cultures of particular regions matter in framing and mobilizing the ideas of the global environmentalism movement in particular states and cultures, combined with how particular state elite decisions matter as well; thus in the global environmental movement, both local cultural decisions on how to frame the green movement matter, as well as how states respond to this matters--both interacting to make four different 'ideal types' of government/green movement interactions analyzed, with [Dryzek's] research team's recommendations for which arrangements tend to be the most successful. [See the rest of this series at TheBioregionalState's channel.]It is how to set up that long term process of greater regional representation and jurisdictional primacy of development decisions within larger states that is the point of the bioregional state definition:
Bioregional democracy (or the Bioregional State) is a set of electoral reforms designed to force the political process in a democracy to better represent concerns about the economy, the body, and environmental concerns (e.g., water quality), toward developmental paths that are locally prioritized and tailored to different areas for their own specific interests of sustainability and durability. This movement is variously called bioregional democracy, watershed cooperation, or bioregional representation, or one of various other similar names—all of which denote democratic control of a natural commons and local jurisdictional dominance in any economic developmental path decisions—while not removing more generalized civil rights protections of a larger national state.
UPDATE: November 23, 2012; What About 'Jurisdictionally Split' Bioregional Areas? The bioregional state has solutions for them as well
Soon after New Zealand moved on the Whanganui, two other areas of the world moved on creating a watershed management framework around the Australian Murray River and the US/Mexican Colorado River. However, these two cases have far to go to be as bioregionally and democratically in sync as the Whanganui. However, they represent issues important to address as well: these are very different situations of split jurisdictions overlaid across a shared bioregion. Does this pose a difficulty with the whole concept of the bioregional state? No. Cross border issues have just as much difficulties with bioregional representation and management--and they may even have great resources of commonality that remain currently untapped. This resource is their mutually marginalized boarderland experiences. Such peoples in a common rivershed may be split by jurisdictions--and sometimes additionally by history and culture--though they still share this very marginalized situation. They share their dual states' degradation and mistreatment, so they have a common interest in rectifying this situation. The issues of the current borders of states worldwide and typically their mutually degraded and victimized borderland peoples can be appropriate for bioregional state arrangements as well. (This is addressed in one special, separate chapter in Toward a Bioregional State as well. Read the book.)
|Australia: the Murray-Darling Watershed|
The first case is between two contiguous states of federated Australia along the shared Murray River. They are attempting to solve the 100 year contention over the management of the river that was divided artificially by a cartographer's straight line into two different federated jurisdictions. However much once based on a fictional map line, this context has become socially real by 100 years of infrastructural and jurisdictional elaboration. It has historically split the common river management and its common people's representation along two separate states--though likely aided toward bioregional issues by common cultural heritage.
|Mexico: Current Terminus of the Colorado River (far from its delta terminus).|
The more extreme case is between two contiguous international states of the United States and Mexico along their shared Colorado River. Both countries have talked for years to resolve the issue of the slow death of the Colorado River into Mexico:
|Colorado River Tipping Point Toward River Death Reached a Decade Ago--in 2003.|
A decade tardy, now both countries are seeking to manage the flow of the Colorado to maintain its natural terminus in a biodiverse river delta area in (Mexico's) Baja California.
However, note both these examples of more centralized watershed management have a long journey ahead toward a more democratically and bioregionally in-sync form. That more sustainable and representative bioregional state arrangement has already been created around the peoples, ecologies, and governments along the Whanganui. The Whanganui can be a model for us all.
Full post in the news:
New Zealand Grants a River the Rights of Personhood
[New Zealand Grants a River the Rights of Personhood Half-Managed by Civic-Regional Maori Iwi]
by TreeHugger, September 8, 2012, 8:00 pm
by Stephen Messenger
From the dawn of history, and in cultures throughout the world, humans have been prone to imbue Earth’s life-giving rivers with qualities of life itself — a fitting tribute, no doubt, to the wellsprings upon which our past (and present) civilizations so heavily rely. But while modern thought has come to regard these essential waterways more clinically over the centuries, that might all be changing once again.
Meet the Whanganui. You might call it a river, but in the eyes of the law, it has the standings of a person.
In a landmark case for the Rights of Nature, officials in New Zealand recently granted the Whanganui, the nation’s third-longest river, with legal personhood “in the same way a company is, which will give it rights and interests”. The decision follows a long court battle for the river’s personhood initiated by the [many different] Whanganui River iwi, an indigenous community with strong cultural ties to the waterway.
Under the settlement, the river is regarded as a protected entity, under an arrangement in which representatives from both the iwi and the national government will serve as legal custodians towards the Whanganui’s best interests.
says New Zealand’s Minister for Treaty for Waitangi Negotiations, Christopher Finlayson.
“Whanganui Iwi also recognise the value others place on the river and wanted to ensure that all stakeholders and the river community as a whole are actively engaged in developing the long-term future of the river and ensuring its wellbeing,” says Finlayson.
Although this is likely the first time a single river has been granted such a distinction under the law, chances are it’s not the last. In 2008, Ecuador passed similar ruling giving its forests, lakes, and waterways rights on par with humans in order to ensure their protection from harmful practices.
And, while it may seem an odd extension of rights, in many ways it harkens back to a time when mankind’s fate was more readily acknowledged as being intertwined with that of the rivers, lakes, and streams that sustained us — a time in which our purer instincts towards preserving nature needn’t be dictated by legislation.
Whether humans had that "purer" instinct is a matter of debate.  Environmental degradation seems quite a long term phenomenon for thousands of years due to forms of unrepresentative state politics.  However, clearly now we can develop sustainability institutionally--democratic, humanistic, and ecological simultaneously--even if perhaps in some places one watershed at a time.