Negotiators of the Rangitne o Wairarapa and Rangitne o Tamaki nui--Rua Treaty of Waitangi Deed of Settlement, which was initialled at Parliament yesterday, say a major step has been taken towards reaffirming the Rangitne identity as an iwi within Tamaki nui--Rua and Wairarapa.
The Rangitne settlement covers the second-largest geographical area of any Treaty settlement to date, with redress sites spanning the region from north of Dannevirke, down to Trakirae (Cape Palliser) and encompassing the wider Wairarapa and Tamaki nui--Rua regions and includes financial redress of $32.5 million, from the Crown.
Lead negotiator Jason Kerehi said this significant level of redress for an iwi with a relatively small population is testament to the extent of the loss suffered by the iwi.
"Our land and our identity are irrevocably linked," Mr Kerehi said.
"Rangitne was left virtually landless during the 20th century as a result of the Crown's Treaty of Waitangi breaches and our iwi have struggled to maintain our connection to our land and culture ever since.
"Being acknowledged as the tangata whenua of this great region is vital - it empowers our iwi and reaffirms our mana."
Dannevirke's Mavis Mullins, one of the negotiators and a trustee for Rangitane, told the Dannevirke News the ceremony was a significant milestone.
"It's exciting," she said. "Along with the Agreement in Principle for Ngati Kahungunu ki Wairarapa Tamaki Nui-a-Rua, signed on Saturday, what we have initialled here today in Parliament is stunning for the Tararua and Wairarapa regions.
"Our whanau here today have been uplifted and satisfied, especially as the minister [Chris Finlayson] read the Crown's apology. It was emotional."
Mrs Mullins said she was not one of the first to run with the baton of Treaty settlement for Rangitane, rather number 33 down the line, but she feels proud to have reached the stage of initialling the Deed of Settlement.
The next step, she said, would be to bring the package back home so people could ratify it before the Crown could start preparing the relevant legislation.
"Realistically that legislation should be through within the next 18 months."
And there have been some major changes in the settlement, since it was signed as an Agreement in Principle, especially in terms of the sharing of property with Ngati Kahungunu, Mrs Mullins said.
The Rangitne settlement will return a number of key cultural sites which are located across the entire Rangitne area of interest and will provide the opportunity to purchase commercial properties, including Ngumu Forest.
The redress over the Pukaha Mount Bruce Wildlife Centre Reserve and Scenic Reserve - the last substantial remnant of the great forest Te Tapere Nui o Whtonga (known to some as 70-Mile Bush) - is especially significant.
Rangitne will gift this taonga back for the people of New Zealand to reflect their tikanga of tuku whenua.
"Today's initialling ceremony is something the entire Wairarapa and Tamaki nui--Rua region can celebrate," Mrs Mullins said.
"This settlement will give us the resources to add real value to our community, in ways we haven't been able to before."
For Rangitane's cultural adviser Dannevirke's Manahi Paewai, the settlement provides an opportunity to address issues and build a strong future for Rangitne and its wider communities.
"For so many years our people have struggled to maintain our connection with our land and culture and we have suffered serious socio-economic issues as a result.
"It's now time to move forward with purpose, so that future generations can prosper," he said.
Mrs Mullins said next week Rangitane would update community leaders by meeting the chamber of commerce members, district councils and the community in general.