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A new chapter for Ngāi Tūhoe
2 November 2017

Ngāi Tūhoe leader Tāmati Kruger delivered this year’s annual Bruce Jesson Memorial lecture at the University of Auckland. Reporter Teuila Fuatai went along

For the proud Tūhoe nation, forging a better path forward is as much about reestablishing its own iwi identity as it is gaining independence from the Crown.

“While we can say that we settled our [treaty] claims in 2014, we remain an unsettled iwi,” Tāmati Kruger, one of the iwi leaders and chair of Tūhoe Te Uru Taumatua, said at the beginning of his Bruce Jesson Memorial lecture.

Turning a new chapter for his central North Island iwi, which endured 177 years of colonial disruption by the British Crown and New Zealand Government, continued to be difficult.

“Having shifted the Crown from front and centre of our focus, we were met by the reality that we all had suspicion that we are not who we should be as Tūhoe people,” Kruger said from the podium at the University of Auckland’s Government House lecture theatre.

“We felt a great dis-ease with where we are now. Many of us felt not appropriate to be where we are, and not appropriate that we were falling short of the ideals of mana motuhake, tino rangatiratanga, and so we found our new struggle was with ourselves.”

Kruger, who was chief negotiator for Tūhoe during its treaty negotiations, offered an insight into what a “post-settlement” world meant for those who hailed from the mighty Te Urewera.

“Tūhoe recite their whakapapa as a place where the mist maiden married the mountain ... and from that came the Tūhoe people. The mist marrying the mountain is a metaphor for us saying we did not come from anywhere else.

“But, there has been great damage to that whakapapa, to that link, over 177 years. And words that are usual to ourselves, like being native and being tangata whenua, and calling Te Urewera our whenua, the place of our birth, using words like mana whenua - we have studied those words, those ideas, those terms now because they mean a completely different thing today," he said.

It was a struggle which he believed affected all indigenous people, all iwi.

“Tangata whenua is now used by some people to mean it’s mine and not yours, or that I’m first and you’re somewhere else down the queue. Mana whenua no longer means my responsibilities and obligations to the land, but it means I own it," Kruger said.

    “We will fight ourselves. It will be very, very disruptive as we try and heal and cure ourselves."

    - Tāmati Kruger

These “new meanings” are not part of Tūhoe whakapapa, and are not what the iwi stands for, “yet seven or eight generations of Tūhoe people have now been affected by that belief and by that view”, he said.

So to move forward, the 40,000-strong iwi - most of whom no longer live within Tūhoe land - must unlearn much of what has been instilled in them through years of colonial rule, and relearn what is right, and true.

“The Crown, the old foe, is a machine we have to understand and deal with - even in our post-settlement world,” Kruger said.

“We have found, like many of you, that nobody’s driving the machine. But there are many, many people who have got a hand on the lever or button, or two, but they’re totally uncoordinated, and they don’t talk with each other. And it’s the machine that tells them what to do and how to do it.”

Mana motuhake, interpreted as the concept of self-determination, is rooted in his people’s desire to survive, to see their mokopuna live better, more meaningful lives - because what has happened under the Crown, and what is now the status-quo, has failed,  Kruger said.

“We are sad that over 250 Tūhoe children are in state care, that over 900 Tūhoe people are with the Corrections Department and with prisons. We’re sad that 14,000 children are on watch to Oranga Tamariki/CYFs.

“We are responsible, we will be responsible and we wish to be responsible for these people,” he said.

In the three years since its treaty settlement, Kruger believed the iwi had progressed in its relationship with various Crown agencies - all part of its 40-year, or two-generation journey towards mana motuhake.  

“We have advised them that we need to be in charge of repatriating Tūhoe children, and therefore their care and protection. Oranga Tamariki have agreed that they have no solutions, and we’re working together on that,” Kruger said.

Things had also improved with the Department of Conservation, and the iwi - in keeping with its role as caretakers of the land - had proudly embarked on several ambitious environmental projects - including the development of roading material made out of wood sap.

If successful, the material would be used to replace the State Highway 38 road.

Following the success of Te Kura Whare - Aotearoa’s first living building at Taneatua - Tūhoe have constructed another self-sufficient, living building at Lake Waikaremoana, and are in the process of finishing a living building hub in Ruātahuna.

    “We need maximum autonomy in order to call ourselves rangatira, in order for us to take full responsibility and obligations for the land, for our past and present and our future.”

“It produces all its own power, it’s not connected up to the mains, it’s zero waste and it enhances its environment," Kruger said.

“And now we’re investigating building villages. So, we’re not stopping at affordable houses, we’ve decided we want to build beautiful houses, and beautiful villages."

But make no mistake, as Tūhoe restored its relationship as mana whenua, and looked toward the next 40 years, there was no forgetting of the injustices it had endured.

“For many Tūhoe in 2017, they are disappointed we have a settlement with the Crown, and they do not believe that the fighting is over and there is not much that I can do about that,” Kruger said.

“The hurt is so grievous and deep that there are no words to describe that, and you and I have no cure for that.”

“We will fight ourselves,” he said frankly. “It will be very, very disruptive as we try and heal and cure ourselves.

“But, we’re quite proud of the start we’ve made, remembering we’re only [just past] the 2014 settlement.”

Furthermore, mana motuhake and fighting for rangatiratanga came back to the role of Tūhoe as tangata whenua - and remembering history was pertinent to this.

“We have no choice but to have a hand and see if we can temper the machine, because the instinct of the machine is to control and dominate, irrespective of what you have written in your settlement, irrespective of what you have written in your legislation ... and to boot it has no memory of what it promised you last week.

“We need maximum autonomy in order to call ourselves rangatira, in order for us to take full responsibility and obligations for the land, for our past and present and our future.”

Towards the end of his discussion, Kruger also offered a wider-vision for Aotearoa - much to the crowd’s delight.

“Some Tūhoe think that in the distant future, there may be no longer be Europeans living in Aotearoa, because Europeans live in Europe,” he said through a wry smile.

“That maybe, in a long distance, the only people you find in Aotearoa are tangata whenua, you and I tangata whenua - because we love the land equally. We have a commitment to it. We believe we are from the land, we will live with it, and we don’t really think that we need to own it.”

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