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Crown repeatedly mistreated Te Urewera people - Tribunal
23 January 2016

The Waitangi Tribunal's final report into Te Urewera has slammed the Crown for breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi.

Some Te Urewera families were forced to live in caves and food shortages meant they had to eat rotten potatoes.

The sixth and final part of the tribunal's long-running Te Urewera Report was released today.

Tuhoe iwi leader Tamati Kruger read the 3500 page report and reflected on the findings of his people's history.

"It's a miracle that we've survived all of that and the intensity in which the Crown wanted to exterminate iwi because they were problematic."

But Mr Kruger is realistic about the tribunal's recommendations, which are not binding.

"One of the things we learnt early on is that Crown does not do justice.

"You find out early on that you have to do that yourself and the fixing of the problem you have to do that yourself as well and that's the unevenness, the unfairness of this process.

"The Crown is very limited in what it can do. It should not be called comprehensive settlements - it's not even close to that."

The relationship between the people of Te Urewera and the Crown couldn't have got off to a worse start, according to the findings of the Waitangi Tribunal.

After initial contact in Te Urewera the Crown wrongly confiscated a large area of Tuhoe's best land in the Eastern Bay of Plenty.

Following that the Crown took Maori land for small or in some cases no payment and this led directly to widespread and severe poverty among its people.

The report recognised the first Treaty relationship between the Crown and people of Te Urewera was the Te Urewera Native District Reserve Act which was legislated in Parliament in 1895.

Through Prime Minister Richard Seddon the act formed a Maori-controlled reserve which was meant to protect all resources.

It was to be self governed by a council of Te Urewera members.

The report found once this was formed, it was quickly destroyed by the Crown and ultimately replaced with a Pakeha-controlled park.

The Crown breached the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi, the report said.

There were some strong statements and language used revealing the severe treatment of Te Urewera Māori throughout the last century.

"The Crown's aid to communities affected by the 1898 famine was inadequate even by the standards of the day."

It also found: "The Crown discriminated against Maori in the provision of pensions and other welfare benefits up to 1938, and in some cases up to 1945."

Only recently has the Crown allowed Maori groups to participate in the design and delivery of social services.

"Communities in Te Urewera have consistently been provided with fewer services than are available in most parts of New Zealand. "

Evidence was presented of disproportionately high rates of diseases including dysentery, bronchitis, pneumonia, chronic respiratory disease, and middle ear problems, which were are result of shocking poverty.

Overcrowded housing, poverty and poor water supply were linked to these statistics.

Lenny Mahururangi of Te Kaawa grew up at Uwhiarae, near Ruatahuna. He remembers growing up in a small mill house in the 1960s living with 13 people and even more at the weekends.

Te Urewera has been home to some of the poorest and most deprived communities in the country.

Waitangi Tribunal Presiding Officer Patrick Savage said they didn't set out to write the history of Te Urewera but it was necessary to report on the 41 claims which he said were complex and challenging in the extreme. It had taken many years and finally produced a document 3500 pages long.

Throughout the process four iwi have been able to settle their treaty claims with the Crown including Ngai Tuhoe last year.

A number of kaumatua and a tribunal member passed away during the hearings so it was important to acknowledge those people.

The report looked at the forestry industry's corporatisation and found the rapid withdrawal of economic and social services from Te Urewera was carried out without adequate regard for the well-being and economic survival of the people.

While the return of Minginui to Ngati Whare was a positive step, the Crown failed to communicate properly with residents, or to identify or fix the numerous housing and environmental problems caused by its neglect, poor construction methods and use of dangerous chemicals.

A new separate legal identity has been set up for the park, including Lake Waikaremoana governed by a comprising Crown and Ngai Tuhoe nominees.


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