On 15 December 2014, the Waitangi Tribunal released in pre-publication form the fifth part of its report on Te Urewera claims. This part deals with Treaty of Waitangi claims in respect of Lake Waikaremoana, lodged by Tuhoe, Ngati Ruapani, Ngati Kahungunu, Ngai Tamaterangi, and various associated groups and individuals. These important claims were the subject of extensive evidence and submission from the Crown and the claimants, which required a lengthy response on the Tribunal’s part in order to determine all the matters of alleged breach and prejudice.
Lake Waikaremoana is a taonga of immense importance to the claimant groups. They have an ancient connection with the lake, which their tradition says was created by their ancestress, Haumapuhia. Over generations, they forged associations with every part of the lake and their histories have been recorded in names all along its shores and headlands and in long-remembered traditions. The waters of the lake are still used in rituals and for healing and it is an economic resource providing traditional food to them. In all these things, the iwi are kaitiaki of Waikaremoana, its guardians or custodians. They possessed the lake, exercising exclusive rights to it; they are thus also its owners. And they exercised tino rangatiratanga – full authority – over Waikaremoana at the time of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840.
Today, the iwi are still the lake’s owners and its kaitiaki, but their authority is a pale shadow of what it once was. In earlier parts of the report, the Tribunal found that the peoples of Waikaremoana suffered military invasion and destruction of their villages by Crown forces, displacement from their homes, and the loss by 1930 of nearly all their lands to the south and the north of the lake. They were reduced to a dire and lasting poverty. Despite these circumstances, and the limitations of the law – which recognised only individual title in the land beneath the waters of the lake, not tribal rights in a taonga waterway – they tried to protect their rights to the lake, and the lake itself.
In this part of the report, the Tribunal makes findings of Treaty breach arising from the Crown–Maori contest over Lake Waikaremoana, which have resulted in prejudice to the claimants.
View the report here.