Iwi and university teaming up for Wairau Bar study

Marlborough iwi Rangitane hope to sign a potentially million-dollar deal with Otago University next week.

Rangitane spokesman Richard Bradley said yesterday that Otago University's vice chancellor, Professor Harlene Hayne, would visit Blenheim on Tuesday next week to visit two historic sites and attend a presentation on the university's world-leading research at Wairau Bar.

That research has shown that Rangitane ancestors were the first people to inhabit New Zealand, and included scientific study of DNA and other analysis that enabled pictures to be drawn of what those ancestors looked like, their diet, and their health.

Bradley said the iwi hoped to sign a formal memorandum of understanding with the university, which would see the university have access to the Wairau Bar site in return for setting up a $1 million institute of archeological research in Marlborough.

University staff had many papers published in scientific journals all round the world from the Wairau Bar work, he said.

"Otago is now suggesting that the Wairau Bar was the Normandy invasion of New Zealand. It's the place where the first planned colonisation of the last uninhabited part of the world was."

Setting up a research institute here in Marlborough could lead to a Rangitane museum in Blenheim to show the artefacts found at the Wairau Bar and sewerage works sites.

Those included five adzes found in the work over the past five years at the sewerage plant, and others found at the Wairau Bar. Bradley said there was a "stunner" 86-tooth porpoise tooth necklace, and a tattooing bone made from the bone of an extinct eagle.

"It's always been our plan to bring them home to Marlborough . . . We don't have anywhere to display these items at the moment."

It was possible this could be at or near the Marlborough District Council's proposed "cultural precinct" on High and Wynen streets near the Taylor River, where the library and art gallery might be moved.

Bradley said Rangitane hadn't had a formal approach from the council, but it would "be warm to it".

Rangitane would apply to the Ministry of Culture and Heritage to claim actual ownership of the adzes found at the archeological sites by the Blenheim sewerage plant, Bradley said.

The iwi had claimed previous finds in Marlborough, and the artefacts were being stored at Otago University until Rangitane could provide a suitable home for them in Blenheim.

The iwi's Treaty of Waitangi settlement had left it in a position where that might be possible, he said, and they were talking with Te Papa to ensure a properly-curated site could be secured for the artefacts to be displayed "for all New Zealand".

Rangitane also wanted to get a covenant with the council about the land around the sewerage works so that "future generations don't roll in their before we have an opportunity to learn what we can about the site."

Otago University's Professor Richard Walter last year received a Marsden Fund of $773,913 for three years' work on "maximising success in a new land: the role of Wairau Bar in the systematic colonisation of New Zealand by Polynesians".

Otago University has also received a $176,397 grant to develop a "living archive" for Rangitane o Wairau.

The Marlborough Express