Ko te awa tōku piringa ka puta, ka ora - he tangata, he whenua, he tangata whenua
Mahuta, Dean P. S.
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The Waikato river is regarded as the ancestor of the Waikato people and an instrinsic element of the people's identity, who's name is derived from the river. The people and their river are inextricably connected. This relationship, in which the Waikato river and people are bound, is embedded in the proverb most associated with the people, 'he piko, he taniwha, Waikato taniwha rau – at every bend a guardian, Waikato of a hundred guardians'. This research explores the facets of Waikato identity which are linked to the Waikato river. Thus, the research provides unique insights into Māori identity at a tribal level. The use of the written historical record and oral accounts from tribal elders provides the foundation for a comprehensive analysis of how Waikato identity has evolved from pre-contact to contemporary times. This research makes particular reference to the Kīngitanga, the Māori King Movement, as well as the New Zealand Land Wars of 1863 that resulted in the raupatu, or illegal confiscation, of over one million acres of Waikato land, and the effect these events have had on Waikato identity. The loss of land, and the loss of an economic base caused the Waikato people to depend more on their ancestral river for their physical and spiritual survival. Under the protection of the Waikato river and under the guidance of the Kīngitanga, the Waikato people, though poor and bereft of land, managed to maintain their identity. The oral accounts by Waikato elders which are included in this research, provide insight into the lives of the people of the river, and offer personal perspectives on Waikato identity. With the settlement of the Waikato River Claim in August 2008 and the passing of the Waikato River Settlement Act on May 6, 2010, Waikato and the Government have reached an agreement and developed a strategy for co-management of the Waikato River. This ushers in a new era for Waikato, and a chance to restore the river to its former glory befitting of an ancestor to which Waikato claim their identity.