Partnership reflects Treaty: iwi

Ngāi Tahu is confident remediation will continue at Tiwai Point and the future contribution will not just be economic, but also cultural, as a partnership continues to develop.

The partnership between New Zealand Aluminium Smelters Ltd (NZAS), Rio Tinto and Ngāi Tahu was a demonstration of Te Tiriti o Waitangi partnership in action, a head of Ngāi Tahu says.

Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu group head of strategy and environment and Awarua Rūnaka trustee Jacqui Caine said in a statement

the groups were working to deliver on a memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed in 2022.

The agreement, signed by Murihiku Rūnaka, Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, NZAS and Rio Tinto, established a partnership to work together on restoring the land the Tiwai Peninsula and the future of the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter beyond December 2024.

The MOU established a remediation advisory working group, with representatives from Mana Whenua and NZAS, and also initiated a $2 million community development fund.

"Ngāi Tahu did not enter this relationship lightly. We wanted any relationship to be something that went beyond tokenism and nice words, to be something firmly rooted in the expression of partnership articulated in the Treaty," Ms Caine said.

"I feel that we have been able to build a mutually beneficial relationship that is seeing substantial progress on Tiwai’s site remediation, and engagement on environmental and broader community programmes, to ensure the overall significance and mana of the land, the Rūnaka and our history is taken into account.

"The MOU captures a partnership that will ensure the voice of Murihiku Rūnaka is even stronger regarding remediation and the future of the smelter.

"Mana whenua now participate in the discussions on plans to remove waste, conduct environmental monitoring and remediate the Tiwai Point site, which is a key priority for mana whenua, NZAS and Rio Tinto."

"The agreement is a commitment by the iwi to share mātauranga Māori [Māori knowledge] and kōrero tuku iho [history and traditions] relative to Tiwai to support Rio Tinto to responsibly manage and protect the environment as the future of the smelter is determined," Ms Caine said.

She said the future of the smelter was a key concern for Awarua, Ngāi Tahu and the wider Southland economy.

"Tiwai provides jobs for our whānau, and economic activity for our region. With the relationship we as mana whenua now have with NZAS, we are confident that remediation will continue and that the future contribution will not just be economic, but also cultural, as our partnership continues to develop," Ms Caine said.

NZAS chief executive Chris Blenkiron echoed these sentiments.

"The partnership with Ngāi Tahu and Awarua Rūnaka really is making a substantial difference in how we operate currently, how we both deal with our legacy over 50 years, and how we plan for a future which will embed a true and enduring partnership.

"The Treaty can often be a vexed topic, but putting its principles around partnership in action, as we have done with our relationship with Ngāi Tahu and Awarua Rūnaka shows how it can drive tangible long-term achievements for the benefits of everyone in the community," Mr Blenkiron said.