Debbie Ngarewa-Packer: Save the sea beds

Peter Thomson (centre), the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean, holds up the Nature Baton at the Youth and Innovation Forum at Carcavelos Beach near Lisbon, Portugal. To his right is oceans activist Jason Momoa.


Our first annual indigenous holiday was a huge success, with schools, businesses, cities, towns and media embracing Matariki and dedicating themselves to learning about our indigenous New Year traditions.

It was transformational experiencing the mass celebration of a holiday that is uniquely ours, that is derived from this land.

This revitalisation of Matariki is happening at the same time we are seeing a general and widespread revitalisation of te ao Māori — our reo, our tikanga, and our unapologetic fight for tino rangatiratanga, the self-determination and self-sufficiency that was guaranteed in Te Tiriti o Waitangi and He Whakaputanga.

As well as being a chance to reflect on the year gone, mourn loved ones and prepare for the year ahead, Matariki also teaches us the importance of our intrinsic connections to our taiao (natural environment).

As Māori, when we introduce ourselves the first thing we mention is our connections to our ancestral mountains, rivers, lands and oceans. These connections sustain us. They grow us. They define us.

It was these obligations to our taiao that were one of the biggest catalysts for me standing for Parliament as a Te Pāti Māori candidate. The struggle to protect our moana (ocean) alongside Te Tai Hauāuru coastline from the destruction that would be caused by deep sea mining has taken my iwi to the Environmental Protection Authority, the High Court, the Court of Appeal, Supreme Court, Parliament, and now, the United Nations.

As everyone celebrated our first Matariki public holiday on Friday, I was boarding a 30-hour flight to Lisbon, Portugal, to attend the 2022 United Nations Ocean Conference.

I’m attending as a guest indigenous speaker and politician to share our experiences as the only indigenous people in the world to have successfully tested seabed mining legislation in the courts — and we did it three times.

Sadly I am not attending as part of the official delegation from Aotearoa, as Minister Parker would only agree to it if I promised to toe the government line (which is unclear). I would not agree to being gagged and silenced by the Government who are sitting on the fence, rather than fighting against this environmental disaster.

Debbie Ngarewa-Packer with Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama at the United Nations Ocean Conference in Lisbon, Portugal. Photo / Supplied
Debbie Ngarewa-Packer with Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama at the United Nations Ocean Conference in Lisbon, Portugal. Photo / Supplied

On Monday I was on a panel hosted by the Government of Palau, Deep Sea Mining Conservation Coalition and WWF with the President of Palau his excellency Surangel Whipps Jnr, Dr Silvia Earle and the Prime Minister of Fiji his excellency Frank Bainimarama sharing our experiences.

Support speakers included Marie Toussaint, French member of European Parliament, and Edward Mallaga-Trillo Congressman of the Republic of Peru.

I also co-hosted a side-event as a member of the Pacific Parliamentarians Alliance on Deep Sea Mining alongside Pacific leaders such as Vanuatu opposition leader Ralph Regenvanu and former Prime Minister of Tuvalu Enele Sopoaga.

I’ll also be speaking at the Blue march today, the conference itself alongside Pacific heads of government and participating in Friday’s ocean global discussions. I am grateful to Raglan’s Phil McCabe and the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition who sorted my registration.

It’s a busy week working with activists, parliamentarians, policymakers and youth to build a global alliance against seabed mining, and convince world leaders of the destruction it will cause to our oceans and climate. It’s been great to see advocates like Jason Momoa inducted to lend his influence.

Many people don’t realize what deep sea mining, or seabed mining, involves, which isn’t surprising as it’s proposed in areas out of sight, and it’s a new, untested and dangerous practice. What we learnt when we successfully challenged the international mining company Trans-Tasman Resources, who are still trying to desecrate our moana in South Taranaki, is that the mining operation would have dug up 50 million tonnes of the seabed every year for 35 years, targeting 5m tonnes of iron ore and dumping the remaining plume of 45m tonnes of sludge back into the ocean.

The impact this would have on precious marine life and the flow-on effects for our local families, businesses and fishing livelihoods would be catastrophic and irreversible.

My message to world leaders in Portugal is the same message I have for Jacinda Ardern, David Parker and the NZ Government — make a stand in solidarity with indigenous communities for healthy oceans and a stable climate.

We need to get off the fence and stop trying to regulate an inherently unsafe practice. We need bold leadership to put a stop to this once and for all. We don’t need to be mining our seabed and threatening at-risk marine life, when we could be mining the millions of tonnes of e-waste we produce every year.

I am proud to stand alongside international allies from indigenous communities and environmental movements in pushing for a global deep sea mining ban, to address climate change, but I’m ashamed of our Government’s hypocrisy. to tangata whenua, but when push comes to shove, they have yet to walk the talk.

• • Debbie Ngarewa-Packer is co-leader of Te Pāti Māori.


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