Cyclone Gabrielle: Human Rights Commission criticises lack of residents’ input into East Coast recovery

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Cyclone Gabrielle recovery efforts on the East Coast have been criticised by the Human Rights Commission as being too centrally driven, with local communities shut out of decision-making.

Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt, who visited Wairoa, Gisborne, Uawa/Tolaga Bay and Te Araroa with a delegation last week, said residents wanted the Government and councils to support community-led responses.

“We heard loud and clear that communities know the solutions. They have the knowledge, insights, relationships and experience that should be determining what development and recovery looks like.”

Many expressed a sense of powerlessness and spoke of being wedged between the impacts of forestry and farming on the land and the waterways around them.


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The threat of more frequent and intense weather events due to climate change, and the centralisation of resources and power away from them – the legacy of colonisation – were also issues raised, Hunt said.

Communities wanted to share in decision-making processes that affected their rights and wellbeing, including legislative and administrative measures that affected them – not just for the cyclone recovery, but in local development more broadly, he said.

“There’s a different vision that needs to be embraced here, one where local communities are in the driving seat, supported by councils and Government.

“There is a concern that this isn’t happening and things are too centrally driven.”


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An indigenous rights governance partner at the commission, Rongomau Taketake Claire Charters, said local leadership was crucial in the recovery and to realise the tino rangatiratanga of iwi, hapū and whānau Māori in the region.

“We heard from tangata whenua along the trip of their struggle to retain ahi kaa [continuous occupation] because of these challenges.

“These are communities who have lived on their whenua for 25 generations.”

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