Iwi become biggest forestry owners

By Yvonne Tahana

For whanau of Maori who helped plant the Kaingaroa Forest during the Depression yesterday's CNI signing represented a long-awaited reaping of their families' efforts.

Ngati Tuwharetoa's Hono Te Rangi-Lord sat with her aunt Maia Te Rangi, waiting for the first reading of their bill in Parliament yesterday.

But her thoughts were on her father, Harry, and Maia's eldest brother, Anihita, whose hands had worked the land 80 years ago.

"For me, this is a day to remember my father and uncle. They planted these forests.

"They'd come home on a Friday [to Turangi], spend Saturday with the whanau and then cycle off on their bikes on Sunday to wherever they were working."

Ms Te Rangi-Lord's father died in 1989 _ the year it became clear through legislation that forests would eventually return to Maori ownership.

"He was a bit hopeful at that time _ the thinking [around settlements] was changing, but at the same time I think he thought it would never happen."

But 19 years later, it would be her father's great-grandchildren who were direct beneficiaries of the deal.

"That's something that makes me so happy," she said.

It was a day that brought together a wide spectrum of Maoridom.

About 600 in all filled Parliament's banquet hall in the morning for the signing of the deed, with the overflow watching on big screens around Parliament.

Members from seven iwi represented came, kaumatua and kuia, young people and Maori sporting icons.

Among iwi there was a sense of history being made _ signing off on the biggest deal ever, which simultaneously makes Maori the biggest forestry landowners in the country.

Former New Zealand Maori Rugby coach Matt Te Pou was one of three negotiators who had a key role working between the CNI and Crown.

While the negotiation was sewn up in six months, there were touch and go moments, Mr Te Pou said.

Iwi hammering out an allocation formula for dividing assets such as the accumulated rentals, worth $223 million, was where the most "risk" for the negotiations falling over was, he said.

When a solution did come the atmosphere _ for groups which had been fighting for 20 years _ was electric, he said.

"It was 3.30 on a Friday afternoon. I walked in the room and it was clear a decision had been made.

"People were mihi-ing (acknowledging) each other.

"That's an image I'm not going to forget any time soon.

"I'm sure I had more hair when I started this."

DOOR STILL OPEN FOR ONE MORE

The door has been left open for one more Central North Island iwi to sign the Treelords deal.

Although Ngati Rangitihi, from the Bay of Plenty, had been heavily involved in negotiating phases of the deal, at ratification hui they voted not to accept the deal.

That result is now in dispute and both the Crown and remaining Central North Island iwi have committed to keeping the option open, if the iwi ratify's the deal.

- NZ Herald

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