A group representing 80 iwi is calling for greater legal recognition of rāhui, similar to Covid-19 restrictions, to prevent people from ignoring them.
Rāhui are usually temporary prohibitions, often put in place over bodies of water when someone has drowned, as a sign of respect. The mauri or life-force of an area is thought be affected when there has been a loss of life.
A rāhui can also be put in place to protect areas from damage, or preserve and replenish marine life.
The Iwi Chairs Forum has made a direct approach to the Prime Minister, calling for rāhui to be given greater legal recognition.
“Covid restrictions is a form of rāhui, if you breach it, the law of today has the ability to imprison you, that's how serious it is,” says Dame Naida Glavish, Iwi Chairs’ spokesperson.
“There is not that same consideration for the value of rāhui.”
Rāhui are recognised in some legislation, including the Fisheries Act, but widespread enforcement could be difficult.
A recent rāhui over a section of the Manawatū river in Palmerston North is an example of the prohibitions being easily ignored.
Warning signs were put up at the Ahimate Reserve by local iwi Rangitāne, to signify the rāhui, following recent drownings in that part of the river.
But Chris Whaiapu of Manawatū iwi Rangitāne says a lot of people continued to swim there.
“The purpose of the rāhui was primarily out of respect for the families and the missing."
Whaiapu says as a result of people still swimming in the river, a second set of fatalities occurred.
"When iwi decide that this is important for a number of reasons then to a degree i do support it being elevated to a legal standpoint."