Iwi Treaty negotiators honoured

By Peter de Graaf

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Rangitane Marsden adds his signature to Ngai Takoto's deed of settlement. Photo/Peter de Graaf
Rangitane Marsden adds his signature to Ngai Takoto's deed of settlement. Photo/Peter de Graaf

The two highest honours awarded to Northlanders in the 2014 Queen's Birthday Honours have gone to iwi leaders who carved trails to historic Treaty settlements for their people.

Haami Piripi, of Te Rarawa, and Rangitane Marsden, of Ngai Takoto, have today been named Officers of the New Zealand Order of Merit (ONZM) for services to Maori.

Both men signed Treaty settlements in 2012 after decades of negotiations in the hope of bringing their Te Hiku iwi better lives and self-reliance.

And both men said the honour belonged to the elders who set them on their paths.

They were joined by four other Northlanders who received honours - D'Arcy Bailey; John Markby; Bill Rossiter and Dr Ian Smit, who were all awarded Queen's Service Medals (QSM).

Mr Piripi, the chairman of Te Runanga o Te Rarawa and former head of the Maori Language Commission, said he was simply following his elders' instructions.

He was surprised to receive an honour, saying he was once regarded as a radical, but suspected his help getting Kaitaia's Te Ahu Centre off the ground was part of the recognition. He had brought Maori together behind the cultural centre and his iwi owned some of the land it was built on.

"What I'm doing now is something that's been planned for me from a child. My elders invested in me many years ago, they instilled the language in me, and a knowledge of history and culture."

"They saw something in me, and said: 'You're going on a mission'. I'm still on that mission. All I'm doing is implementing their instructions."

Mr Marsden said the honour was recognition for his predecessors who started the Treaty settlement process 28 years ago but never lived to see the results. "I think this award is about recognising their initial footsteps, and not being around to see where we are today."

The head negotiator and chief executive of Te Runanga o Ngai Takoto, Mr Marsden said he had merely "picked up where others left off". They included his father, the late Rev Maori Marsden.

Mr Piripi, who lives at Ahipara, also serves on an education forum working to raise achievement standards, Te Papa's repatriation advisory panel and the National Broadband Working Group. His iwi is working on its own project, a joint venture with a Chinese firm, to install a broadband "backbone" in the Far North.

Mr Marsden's background includes 22 years in social work and CYF, with roles from the coalface to management in Auckland, Whangarei, Kaipara, Kaikohe and Kaitaia.

He said a passion for community development drove his approach to settlement.

"Faced with the loss of land, and the loss of our ability of grow economically and socially, the question was: How do we get back our ability to take responsibility and advance ourselves?"

Over the past 28 years Ngai Takoto had gone from owning a piece of chalk and a blackboard to owning returned land and interests in fishing and forestry, as well as offering scholarships, wananga and tribal festivals.

"We've come a long way from nothing. Now we have the ability to make a difference in the lives of people at a grassroots level."

He suspected his honour may also have been recognition of the tribe's courage for "playing hardball with the Crown" and pushing for the best outcome.

Mr Marsden played a key role in the previous Far North District Council's push for a unitary authority with dedicated Maori seats. He lives in Whangarei but commutes daily to Kaitaia.

More Northland honours, page 6; other New Zealanders honoured, page 22.

- Northern Advocate

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