After more than 100 years of broken promises, Tuhoe people have greeted news of a deal wresting the pristine Te Urewera National Park out of Crown ownership with disbelief.
"I think it's because of generations of disappointment, betrayal, raised expectation, and backflips by the Crown," negotiator Tamati Kruger said after yesterday's ground-breaking deal.
"People were saying to themselves - ‘Is this true?' "
The deal includes a $170 million cash settlement, ranking it alongside the "big two" Treaty settlements agreed by Tainui and Ngai Tahu in the 1990s.
Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson acknowledged yesterday Tuhoe's claim as one of the most "serious set of grievances in the nation's history".
In 2010, Tuhoe believed the Crown was poised to hand over ownership of Te Urewera National Park after negotiations with the National Government. Its hopes were dashed again after Prime Minister John Key told them it would be a "bridge too far".
But under a compromise announced yesterday, the Crown will relinquish ownership of the park, which will instead be set up as a separate legal identity, governed by a board comprising Crown and Ngai Tuhoe nominees.
After a five-year review, Tuhoe hope that full control will be handed over to them.
The deal also includes a historical account and Crown apology, and Mana Motuhake, or self-government, redress - including a target of Tuhoe control over the delivery of government and iwi services to its communities and people over time.
The deal excludes Lake Waikaremoana. Maori ownership of the lake bed has already been recognised by the courts.
Urewera will effectively lose its status as a national park, though the Government says the main provisions of the National Parks Act will be incorporated in legislation.
Mr Kruger said it would be a hugely significant day for Tuhoe once the deed of settlement was signed. It would put Tuhoe back in control of its own land.
The deal promises continued public access, and Mr Kruger said Tuhoe's preference was not to charge visitors.
But he acknowledged there may be suspicion about what handing over control might mean.
"There is no precedent or model elsewhere for it; that may account for some of the tentativeness from some quarters . . ."
Ngai Tuhoe did not sign the Treaty of Waitangi and remained in full control of its customary lands until 1865 when the Crown confiscated much of it.
War broke out after the confiscations and the Crown has since acknowledged it used scorched earth tactics, executed unarmed prisoners and killed non-combatants in what one Crown official at the time described as "extermination".
In 1870, Tuhoe were forced out of Te Urewera and detained at Te Putere, suffering widespread starvation and loss of life.
In 1896 Parliament enacted the Urewera District Native Reserve Act providing for local self government over a 656,000 acre Urewera Reserve, but this was never honoured.
In subsequent years the tribe suffered significant loss of land due to Crown tactics.
In 1916, 70 armed police arrested Tuhoe prophet Rua Kenana and two Tuhoe men were killed during the arrest.
In 1954 the Crown established Te Urewera National Park, which included most of Ngai Tuhoe's traditional lands, without consulting Tuhoe.
Source: Office of Treaty Negotiations Minister
- © Fairfax NZ News
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