OPINION: Few, if any, Maori iwi suffered worse at the hands of early Pakeha administrations than Tuhoe.
Fertile lands were confiscated on trumped up grounds, territory was invaded, unarmed prisoners were executed and settlements were destroyed. As recently as 1954, a national park incorporating most of the tribe's traditional lands was established without its people being consulted.
Hence, the $170 million deal agreed to to settle the iwi's historic grievances is welcome. Tuhoe was never a signatory to the Treaty of Waitangi, but the wrongs done to the people who dwelt in what is now Te Urewera National Park were real and egregious. They fomented a sense of distrust that endures today as evidenced by the support for the activists convicted earlier this year of arms offences resulting from their participation in military-style training camps in the Ureweras. The agreement, which must still be formally ratified by iwi members, creates an opportunity to consign that distrust to the past.
As with all Treaty negotiations, compromise has been required. Tuhoe have had to accept that it is not feasible in 2012 to provide full redress for injustices done up to 147 years ago. The National-led government has had to make concessions that will discomfort some of its supporters.
Foremost among them is the creation of a new legal identity to own Te Urewera National Park, a device devised by the negotiators to get around Prime Minister John Key's refusal to countenance returning the park lands to Tuhoe ownership. In addition, a new agreement acknowledging tribal mana has been drawn up to govern the delivery of social services to Tuhoe.
Over time, it is clearly the expectation of Tuhoe that the tribe will take greater responsibility for the administration of the park and the delivery of services to its people. Both represent an opportunity and a risk for the Government and the tribe.
New Zealanders are accustomed to walking where they will.
If, at any point, trampers and hunters find access to the Ureweras being restricted or unreasonable fees being charged, the government of the day and Tuhoe will feel the backlash.
In a similar vein, taxation brings with it the expectation of representation.
Should the iwi prove to be better deliverers of state-funded services than bureaucrats, few will complain, but any hint that the state has connived in the establishment of a slush fund will provoke a strong reaction.
However, the uncertainties of the future should not be allowed to obscure the achievements of today. The agreement lances a boil that has blighted relations between Tuhoe and the Crown for more than 150 years, restores Tuhoe mana and creates a financial base on which the tribe can build for the future.
The negotiations could not have succeeded without wisdom, goodwill, and generosity of spirit on both sides.
So long as those qualities remain the hallmark of dealings between Tuhoe and the Crown, the future will be brighter than the past.
- The Dominion Post