Claire Trevett

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

New Zealander of the Year Finalist 2012: Tamati Kruger

Tamati Kruger says the Ruatoki raids came "very close" to derailing a settlement. Photo / Greg Bowker
Tamati Kruger says the Ruatoki raids came "very close" to derailing a settlement. Photo / Greg Bowker

Tuhoe chief negotiator Tamati Kruger is the first to admit that in the midst of the raw anger of 2010 it seemed impossible Tuhoe's Treaty settlement would be all but a done deal just two years later.

That was the year Prime Minister John Key ruled out handing back ownership of Te Urewera National Park to Tuhoe - a decision taken as a further betrayal of a people with a gruelling history who were already deeply suspicious of the Crown.

It is Mr Kruger who was credited with getting it back on track, resulting in a unique Treaty settlement offer this year under which Te Urewera will be legally owned by nobody but jointly controlled by Tuhoe and the Crown. It also offers Tuhoe the chance to take over the delivery of its own social services - a form of mana motuhake, or self-rule.

Mr Kruger says what most amazed him after it was announced was the lack of reaction. "Both Crown and Tuhoe were expecting some negative response, and there was none.

I was dumbfounded. The Crown and Tuhoe have been fighting each other for over 150 years. And it's not usual, is it, that suddenly it stops?"

Mr Kruger says the Crown negotiators deserve some credit for the agreement. But it was he who managed to defuse a series of events that threatened negotiations. Perhaps the most volatile was the police raids on the people of Ruatoki.

Mr Kruger says the raids came "very close" to derailing the settlement and said he "was under great pressure to chuck the negotiations in".

Instead he spoke to Tame Iti and others involved and pushed the view it was best to separate the two things.

It worked - although Mr Kruger says the issue of the raids and potential legal action will be addressed once the settlement is done. "That cannot be forgotten by anyone. It's a life-changing event."

A Deed of Settlement is expected in April and the Tuhoe people will then have to ratify it. He is hopeful but cautious.

"This is [the] closest we have ever come to an agreement of a settlement. That's to be congratulated - all of us need to recognise that justice and peace may be seen by us in our lifetime."

He does not think a settlement will magically fix everything between the Crown and Tuhoe.

"A settlement is a chance to change the habits of history that have been a nightmare for Tuhoe. They just wish to be as self-reliant as possible, where they don't owe anyone anything. That's what they call being rich here."

Academic Paul Moon has marvelled at "the ingenious alchemy" which created the relationship between Tuhoe and the Crown. Alchemy, maybe, or the careful work of a patient, resolute and forgiving man in tracksuit pants.

- NZ Herald

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