Veronica Strang, Professor of Anthropology, Durham University, UK
Through the sale of hydroelectric and water company shares, trading schemes and the physical control of freshwater supplies, there is continual acceleration worldwide in the privatization of water resources. Key opponents to the social and material enclosure of this ‘common good’ are indigenous communities who, having had their land and water appropriated by colonial societies, are now seeing these subjected to further economic colonization, exploitation and ecological degradation, often by transnational corporations with little or no local social or environmental accountability. Indigenous protests about the imposed redirection of hydrological flows are not merely attempts to assert prior rights of ownership and managerial responsibility. They are also a critique of dualistic Western notions of Culture and Nature and of ideologies and practices oriented towards unlimited growth which, they say, conflict with their integrated worldviews, and their more sustainable and reciprocal relations with place.
This paper focuses particularly on a recent case brought by the Māori Council against the Crown in New Zealand. As well as initiating a lively national discussion about water rights and ownership, the case articulated inter-cultural dialogues which resonate with wider national and international debates about environmental values and ways of understanding human relationships with water.