Three more iwi to sign treaty deal

ISOBEL EWING
Last updated 05:00 22/12/2012

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Taranaki's largest iwi will be offered $88 million compensation today in a landmark Treaty of Waitangi deal.

Te Atiawa is one of three from the province expected to sign agreements in principle in Parliament.

Taranaki and Nga Ruahine are also expected to sign with the Crown.

The deals, if accepted by iwi members, will push the total value of settlements struck with Taranaki iwi over the past decade to more than $200m.

The progress made on settlements with Te Atiawa, Taranaki and Nga Ruahine leaves just one tribe of the eight in Taranaki, Ngati Maru, to reach any formal understanding.

It is expected that Te Atiawa and Nga Ruahine iwi will sign an Agreement in Principle (AIP) - a broad outline of the settlement package, which is not legally binding. Taranaki iwi will sign a letter of agreement.

The deals must be ratified by the respective iwi members, which could take up to eight months.

Te Atiawa, which is in line for the biggest settlement of the eight Taranaki iwi, has been in negotiations for 14 years.

The iwi turned down $34m in 1999 and Te Atiawa Iwi Authority chairwoman Wikitoria Keenan said the deal now on the table was an $87m settlement, with $1m in cultural redress.

Other settlements previously struck around the region have ranged from $14.5m to $41m.

She said agreement in principle was a step toward settlement and a positive move for Te Atiawa.

"The importance of the Agreement in Principle is it lays the foundations for the deed. Today we've got nothing, tomorrow we will have an agreement," she said yesterday.

"It's taken two generations and a lot of hard battles to get there. It's a milestone in many ways."

Te Atiawa Iwi Authority was pleased to finally share the decision-making with its people, she said.

"We're now at a crossroads where the iwi can make a decision. We are part of the community, we will be here forever."

The deal had the potential to turn Te Atiawa into an economic powerhouse in Taranaki, providing the tools to train and invest in its people, she said.

If the deal is ratified it is expected that the tribe will invest in land - specifically in Waitara, where the New Plymouth District Council sold 120 hectares of leasehold land to the Crown in 2004 in the expectation it would be used in a settlement with Te Atiawa.

The land, known as the Pekapeka block, would be sold to Te Atiawa at market value, which former New Plymouth mayor Peter Tennant said in 2010 would be "north of $20m".

Te Atiawa said the value had yet to be determined.

The iwi's boundaries include the communities of Waitara and Inglewood, as well as New Plymouth, and the tribe is expected to also look at land-banked property, as well as the Nga Motu islands.

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The Treaty of Waitangi settlement dates back to the Crown's seizure of 68,500ha of land in 1863, and it will be some months yet before it is potentially resolved.

The consultation process for Te Atiawa will be nationwide and start next year.

"We will allow people time to understand the implications of the settlement," Ms Keenan said. "It could be seven to eight months, the settlement is quite complex."

She said Waitara leaseholders had nothing to fear in a potential change of landlord.

The Taranaki Daily News understands that Te Atiawa will also be given an option to buy commercial buildings, industrial land and residential properties, including the Barrett St Hospital, in New Plymouth. And iwi claims to Mt Taranaki will be negotiated after all iwi in the region have settled.

Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia said the signing could not have come soon enough for the region where the first shots were fired in New Zealand's land wars.

"It's groundbreaking for Te Atiawa."

She said the delay in settlement had meant lost opportunities for Te Atiawa.

"Fourteen years is a long, long time to be in negotiations. When you look at the other iwi that have settled and what they have been able to do, all the others have progressed hugely."

She said the settlement would not just benefit the members of Te Atiawa.

"I'll be very surprised if all the iwi did not make investments that help the community at large."

This could occur through developing relationships with local councillors and businesses, growing their economic base and increasing opportunities for young people.

New Plymouth MP Jonathan Young said the settlements were huge for the three Taranaki iwi groups.

"We know the Taranaki iwi groups experienced a tremendous deprivation and land loss in the 1860s so it is really significant we've come to this point."

He acknowledged the hard work of the iwi teams and Treaty Settlement office.

Mr Young also believed Waitara leaseholders should not be worried about their tenancies.

"When the Pekapeka block is given back they will have different landlords, but I am sure of a positive relationship in the future."

He said the settlement would restore a good measure of economic business for iwi in Taranaki.

Minister of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Chris Finlayson said he was pleased to have reached such an important stage with the iwi, having first met with them in 2009.

The deal would see Taranaki iwi receive the same benefits gained by Tainui and Ngai Tahu iwi after settling, he said.

"It will strongly reinvigorate group investment in the province.

"I love the old Naki, it's got everything going for it. To have these iwi investing, it works so well in other places, it will work brilliantly up there."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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