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6 years on...

22 August 2020
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On this date in 2014, hundreds attended the Crown-Tūhoe settlement day at Te Whare Kura in Tāneatua, to mark the agreement to move on from historical grievances.Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Hon. Chris Finlayson delivered the Crown’s apology (which you can read in full here. Representatives of the Auckland Museum handed back the flag that police had taken from Maungapōhatu in 1916 – a flag that had originally been given by the Crown to Tūhoe to symbolise the peace between them when the Urewera Native District Reserve was established in 1894. 


Although this day marked the conclusion of a long journey begun by Tūhoe ancestors who had resisted or tried to work the Crown since the 1860s, and those others who had sought redress for the wrongs suffered over the years, it was also a new beginning. It signalled the start of a new relationship between Tūhoe and the Crown, meeting as equals with respect and trust, and a new start for Tūhoe’s journey towards self-determination as an iwi - The Blueprint New Generation Tūhoe Authority. One of the key meeting points for this new relationship was the care of Te Urewera. The return of Te Urewera from Crown ownership, and now recognised as her own legal identity, was at the heart of the settlement. The new Te Urewera Act talked about maintaining and strengthening the relationship between Te Urewera and its tanata whenua, Tūhoe.

The gap that needed to be overcome can be glimpsed on some of the signage surviving from its time as a national park between 1954 and 2014 (replacement of signage is a large job that is still underway).An information display at a shelter in Waikaremoana provides visitors with the story of the creation of the lake, pictures showing conservation programmes for native birds, and (lots of) information about the hydro-electric dam. There is little trace of the fact Te Urewera is the home of the Tūhoe people. Despite living within Te Urewera since time immemorial, the iwi had no formal ongoing relationship with Department of Conservation, who managed the national park for the Crown.There was always going to be a temptation to sit back and let DOC continue to do what it had for the last quarter of a century. After all, DOC was, and is, a respected brand in conservation management.

While the Crown had disconnected Tūhoe from Te Urewera through confiscations and consolidations and by creating the national park, the individuals who worked for DOC over the years in Te Urewera (some of them Tūhoe) also cared about the land and its wellbeing in their own way. But Te Urewera was not and had never been simply a national park.So the Crown had to step back and relinquish authority. And after a long period being dispossesed of our kaitiaki responsibilities Tūhoe had accept the challenge of relearning what it mean to care for Te Urewera

The difference between DOC’s traditional approach and the new focus of Te Urewera Board was the management plan, Te Kawa o Te Urewera released in 2017. Management plans for national parks tended to be more of a “stocktake” of rules around use and targets for pest control.  Its approach was respectful of the land, but treated it as if it and the nāhere were there for the enjoyment of people, rather than as there for its own sake. Te Kawa is instead a statement of principles around Papatūānuku (landscape), Mauri (life), Āhua (character), Tapu (Wai), Tātai (heritage) and Whānau (tanata whenua and manuhiri). Te Kawa sets out the responsibilities that the custodians of Te Urewera have to upholding those principles. Tūhoe transitioned to full operational management of Te Urewera between 2014 and late 2018, to reflect Te Urewera Act’s purpose of strengthening and maintaining the relationship between Tūhoe and Te Urewera. But the work of building a sense of responsibility for Te Urewera as tanata whenua is ongoing.

In order to manage people for the benefit of Te Urewera, there is now an effort underway to understand the whole of the Te Urewera living system and the impact of people on it, an understanding that looks at timeframes greater than annual planning cycles or schedules. It requires rebuilding traditional knowledge to understand Te Urewera, as well as being open and confident enough to draw from the modern knowledge, while standing firm on the principles of Tūhoetana. On the sixth anniversary of the Tūhoe-Crown settlement day it is satisfying that the relationship between Tūhoe and DOC continues to grow and evolve, guided by the need to listen to and understand what is best for Te Urewera herself.

Six years on and the journey has been full of challenges, but also precious lessons. In our desire to take responsibility and reconnect to Te Urewera, we must always remember that that authority is not wielded for its own sake. We must work without ego or entitlement to do what is best for the whenua, the living Te Urewera system and our culture.

Mā tō tātau kaha, me tō tātau māia ki te pupuri i nā tikana I take mai ai i a Te Urewera e kitea ake ai te oranatonutana e tūmanakohia ana e tātau katoa. Kia muramura, kia whitawhita, kia korakora mai ai te ahi kā roa i oti ia rātau mā te tūtakitaki.

Ko au ko Te Urewera, ko Te Urewera ko au!

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