Settlement signing: A long and winding road

By Tommy Wilson

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Today is an historic day as Tauranga Moana's first Treaty of Waitangi settlement was signed at Pyes Pa. Tommy Wilson, who was part of the settlement process, tells why the occasion is so important.

For the uninformed ordinary Kiwi bloke the words raupatu and treaty settlement would mean about as much as the words justice and reconciliation and for them the whole Treaty trough is a rip-off of epic proportions.

For those who show up today for the Ngati Ranginui treaty settlement signing in a Pyes Pa paddock, it was all about justice and reconciliation.

So what is this place and why will hundreds brave the elements. The paddock where the signing took place holds huge significance to tangata whenua of Tauranga Moana.

It is known as Te Ranga and it is the battle site where many Maori were slaughtered 148 years ago for nothing more than trying to save their land.

How could a site of such cultural and historical significance be nothing more than a concrete block stuck in the middle of a herd of grazing cows?

I guess to get to that answer we need to take a step back in time when Maori resisted land sales and war ensued.

The NZ Settlement Act provided for what The Southern Cross newspaper quoted as "this land grab is a fatherly and moderate 'act of Christian charity' from evilly disposed natives".

Or as MP at the time Robert Bruce said: "I praise the land courts as an ingenious method of destroying the whole of the Maori race."

And destroy them they almost did with synchronised slaughters up and down Aotearoa, similar to what took place at Te Ranga.

On June 21, 1864, at Te Ranga, local Maori who had put their trust in their new-found Christian faith were betrayed big time, and when the Bible and the bayonet stood between them and their land it took them from hopeful to hopeless.

When I first stood at Te Ranga five years ago with a group of faithful friends, I knew I had to have a go at helping right the wrongs of yesterday.

The only way I could see Maori getting back their land was buying it and the Treaty settlement process was the avenue for this to happen.

For the past five years, my faithful mates, most of whom are non-Maori, and I have come back and stood on the same site at Te Ranga and prayed for the day when someone would stand up and say sorry for 148 years ago.

For some, saying sorry is a plaster on a weeping wound, and for others the Treaty Trough will be the watering hole for the well-to-do Maori, and poverty and hard times will not see a cent of the settlement.

For some Maori not attending today, signing is surrendering.

The significant point to be made about this is we all have an informed choice we make today, something we didn't have 148 years ago and the only way we can get our land back is buy it.

For my two bob's worth of who gets what, Treaty settlements concede more than they gain and when we compare what our hapu get back for 50,000 hectares confiscated, it works out at a meagre $160 per acre.<inline type="photogallery" id="13125" align="outside" embed="no" />

The question many Maori in my hapu (there are 8 hapu in the Ngati Ranginui settlement) ask is how many billions have Pakeha made from those stolen 50,000 hectares?

Another sobering statistic is so far Treaty settlements total $1.3 billion since Ngai Tahu and Tainui first settled. This is far less than the $1.7 billion paid to mainly Pakeha investors in South Canterbury Finance. So where do we go from here in Tauranga post-settlement?

For me what happened at Te Ranga 148 years ago is sadly remembered for all of the wrong reasons and hopefully June 21, 2012, will be remembered for all of the right ones.

Many have walked this long road of raupatu with nothing more than a dreams and a heavy heart beating with the injustices of a generation long gone.<inline type="recurring-inline" id="1003" align="outside" enforce-sites="no" />

Many didn't make it and handed the baton of their belief in justice to their mokopuna (grandchildren) who make up the faithful whanau who for the last three years have negotiated on behalf of their eight hapu. Many like me are new kids walking the hikoi of hope that raupatu will take us down.

A long and winding road to reconciliation that could and should show other nations what can be achieved when we right the wrongs of yesterday.

Who is to say what we settle here can't spark something similar in Syria or the Sinai, in Israel; or Palestine?

Why not, given most wars are caused by land, religion and greed? Who knows what the map of the human heart holds when we are brave enough to simply say sorry. What gift can we all gather up in a Pyes Pa paddock and give to tomorrows' tamariki? Is it a purse full of pinga or a sack full of security? Is it ownership or is it to be the guardian of what was once ours anyway? Is it the return of lost lands and lost hope?

Or is the signing in a Pyes Pa paddock the symbolic start to building a road of reconciliation? That's what my Te Kohinga mates and I believe.

How about you?

Tommy Kapai Wilson (pictured) was a member of the Treaty negotiations team for the Te Puna hapu (subtribe) of Pirirakau. It was one of eight hapu that settled with the Crown under the umbrella of Ngati Ranginui iwi.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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