IT was an historic day for local iwi who have finally become an authoritative body governing their sacred mountain Mauao, helping secure one of New Zealand's most popular reserves for future generations.
Mayor Stuart Crosby and councillors Terry Molloy, Larry Baldock and Wayne Moultrie met representatives from Ngati Ranginui, Ngai Te Rangi, and Ngati Pukenga at the base of Mauao yesterday to sign the Memorandum of Understanding. The agreement formalises a shared management duty of the historic mountain reserve.
Waiata rang out of the Mount Maunganui Lifeguard Service clubrooms as the representatives signed.
Tauranga Moana Iwi Leaders Forum chairman Awanui Black said the day was "very significant" for local Maori.
"Essentially it makes iwi from being a title-holder only to being part of the management regime in a structural way."
Mr Black said the overall health and wellbeing of Mauao was iwi's main priority and now iwi had more of a hand to help nurture and protect the mountain for future generations. This did not mean any plans to limit access of the mountain to people, as feared by some sectors of Tauranga's community, Mr Black said.
"First of all, access has never been an issue and it's not an issue now. The access will remain open. If you look at pretty much the similar agreements, access has never been denied by Maori."
Mr Black cited other parts of New Zealand where similar understandings worked well - the Waikato River, Auckland's volcanic reserves and Mount Cook.
Mauao is of great importance to local Maori who used it as a place of occupation and later as a refuge for defence in history spanning about 1000 years. Its base and summit tracks are used by more than a million people each year.
Meetings held over the past year resulted in unanimous support by councillors, Mr Black said.
"That cannot be understated."
Mayor Crosby said there were many fine words spoken at those meetings, "now we must turn them into action".
He said the council had already worked with Maori on Mauao issues for a long time. The memorandum helped cement the working relationship between iwi and the council.
"I'm confident this decision will serve our community of all ages."
Cr Moultrie, who is also chairman of the Mauao Steering Group, said the vision of the group was to continue to treat Mauao with respect and dignity.
"It's business as usual, it really is," he said.
"It's there for everybody."
The council will continue to pay $800,000 a year to keep Mauao "in good nick", Mr Moultrie said.