After the scramble to find a place that would have them, Te Atiawa's historic $87 million Treaty settlement signing was a day of celebration able to weather a peaceful protest by those against the deal.
Spirits were high on Saturday morning, even before formalities began at the Rangiatea complex in New Plymouth as the crowd of about 200 joined in song before the Crown's arrival.
The historic signing took place at the Spotswood location after other Te Atiawa marae refused to allow the ceremony to take place on their spots because of the controversy surrounding the deal.
About 80 protesters set up at the Rangiatea complex with banners opposing the signing for reasons that included the Waitara endowment lands, potential conflicts of interests within Te Atiawa Iwi Authority and how the post-settlement governance entity (PSGE) was formed.
The demonstrators, from Otaraua, Manukorihi and Ngati Tawhirikura hapu, chanted "parau kau tu kau," for more than 15 minutes until Crown dignitaries arrived.
A member of the group, who wished not to be identified, said the chanting was a hark back to Parihaka's peaceful ploughmen protests of the 1870s and a sign the three hapu were separating themselves from the signing that was to take place.
The demonstrators didn't hang around, leaving as government representatives including Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Chris Finlayson were welcomed.
Finlayson acknowledged the demonstrators and said he had not been involved in a settlement free of dissent, but called on the iwi to be united. "I think the best days are ahead for Te Atiawa. The divisions will heal," he said.
In detailing the historical failures of the Crown, Finlayson admitted he felt "embarrassed recounting the history".
"But it was with this in mind that we negotiated a package, a package I hope will provide real benefit for the people."
Finlayson also gave details of a heads of agreement between Te Atiawa's PSGE and the New Plymouth District Council, signed on Friday, that paved the way for the iwi to have the controversial Waitara endowment lands returned to their ownership more than a century after they were confiscated.
"Some people might criticise us for being here today, but what's critical for me is that this sets the iwi up."
He said at ratification, 77 per cent had voted in favour of the signing. The majority vote was enough to see it go ahead and Finlayson said the $87 million settlement, together with the endowment land agreement, provided "a just and durable outcome for Te Atiawa".
Finlayson also said the Government would clear the land at the Barrett St hospital for the iwi.
"The time for unity is now. I think there's an opportunity to leave discord behind and look to the future," he said.
This was the message of the Iwi's PSGE chairwoman, Liana Poutu, who said it was time for a change in focus. "It isn't about how much money we can make or how we should spend it, the most important focus is learning to fall in love with each other and ourselves as Te Atiawa," she said.
Poutu said the PSGE was a vehicle to support the dreams and aspirations of the iwi.
"Empowerment and encouragement of our people is the focus. The settlement does not define us, we decide what defines us," she said. In closing, Poutu left the crowd with a quote.
"What lies behind us and what lies in front of us is not the most important thing, the most important things is what lies inside us."
When her speech was finished, dignitaries from both sides were invited to sign the deed, followed by iwi members who wished to add their initials.
- Taranaki Daily News
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