This is a chance for Aotearoa's biggest iwi to determine its own future, writes Sonny Tau the interim chairman of Te Ropu o Tuhoronuku.
Today marks one of the most significant milestones in the history of Ngapuhi since the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Ngapuhi Te Tiriti o Waitangi settlement entity Te Ropu o Tuhoronuku (Tuhoronuku) today begins seeking mandate to represent the iwi in settlement negotiations with the Crown.
This will be the last big Treaty settlement. It will have a profound social and economic impact on Northland and Maori communities of greater Auckland.
There are those who would like individual Te Tiriti claims heard first in the Waitangi Tribunal, before settlement negotiations begin with the Crown.
Tuhoronuku supports these hearings, but while we respect the right of individual claimants to choose a process for their claims, experience from other iwi settlements show that this process takes many, many years.
Ngapuhi and Northland do not have time on their side. The region:
* Has the highest unemployment rates in the country.
* Ranks high in all negative indicators, from welfare, health and corrections.
* Has education achievement among the lowest in the country.
A Ngapuhi settlement has the potential to contribute to turning this around, if we go on the decade of successful post Tainui and Ngai Tahu settlements.
With thousands of visitors each year - 17 per cent from overseas - in time, Ngapuhi can support and enhance the regional tourism sector just as Ngai Tahu has done.
This will create the much needed jobs that will provide stability and security for our people, and result in highly skilled Ngapuhi and Northlanders returning home.
Like settlement has done for Tainui and Ngai Tahu and Peter Jackson and Weta have done for Wellington, a settlement has the potential to turn Northland into a significant contributor to the national economy - not an anchor dragging it.
And culturally, settlement will enrich us - reviving Ngapuhi tikanga and reo, providing for the upkeep of our marae and returning our taonga.
Every year settlement is delayed is a year of wasted opportunity for our people, especially our taitamariki (young people).
Settlement will turn around the Ngapuhi mind-set from a grievance mode to determining our own future.
One in five Maori proudly affiliate to Ngapuhi - we are Aotearoa's biggest iwi.
We have a population of 122,214 (2006 Census), of whom 60 per cent live in the greater Auckland area. About 13 per cent live in Te Whare Tapu o Ngapuhi, our home region of Northland.
Almost 30,000 mandate voting packs went into the mail yesterday. However, many more will be provided with the opportunity to vote. All Ngapuhi over 18 have four voting options: online, post, fax and at hui.
The election process is being managed by independent Christchurch-based organisation Electionz.com Ltd, which ran the 2010 local government elections.
Our Tuhoronuku representatives are respected members of their communities, with wide experience in governance of marae, hapu trusts, kura and in some cases, community, regional and national entities.
In January this year, the Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations, Christopher Finlayson, and Minister of Maori Affairs, Dr Pita Sharples, wrote to Tuhoronuku endorsing our mandate strategy as "sound" and "in line with Crown criteria for robust and transparent mandating processes".
We don't expect our politicians to agree on much. But in the case of settlement for Ngapuhi, all Northland MPs agree.
Hone Harawira, MP for Te Tai Tokerau, said: "A just and enduring settlement for Ngapuhi must be a priority for this Government."
Labour Party MP Shane Jones said: "It is important that the settlement of Maoridom's largest iwi, Ngapuhi, proceed with pace. The North will definitely benefit from a settlement of this size." Labour Party MP Kelvin Davis said: "Settlement will provide the foundation for Ngapuhi to break new ground as indigenous leaders."
The MPs have spoken. It is now time for the people to speak. We encourage all Ngapuhi to fill out their voting packs this weekend, or go online to find out how they can vote.
Kia tutika au te Whare Tapu o Ngapuhi (Respect to the sacred house of Ngapuhi).
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