Tuhoe deal stalls over Urewera park return

By Claire Trevett, Yvonne Tahana

Progress on a Tuhoe treaty settlement has stalled because National is split over the issue of returning Te Urewera National park to the tribe.

Huge sensitivities over the possibility of the Government giving Tuhoe ownership of the 212,672ha national park - something the Crown has never done before - could see the original negotiations timetable slide.

The tribe is waiting for the Cabinet to approve a final settlement proposal and Te Kotahi a Tuhoe, the body negotiating with the Crown, planned to take a deal to iwi members by May 14.

However, the Weekend Herald understands several ministers have varying degrees of opposition to the settlement, including Foreign Minister Murray McCully, Education Minister Anne Tolley and Deputy Prime Minister Bill English.

It is understood there is concern about the political fallout of such a move, given the public's increased sensitivity over national parks because of the Government's mining proposals. A further political risk is in the precedent-setting nature of the move.

Handing over Crown ownership of a national park as part of a Treaty settlement would be a significant departure from usual practice. Previously, only small parcels of Department of Conservation land have been returned to iwi and any significant sites were immediately gifted back by tribes, as when Ngai Tahu gifted Aoraki/Mt Cook to the nation.

Treaty Minister Chris Finlayson would not confirm if the handover was in the revised settlement offer awaiting Cabinet sign-off or say what feedback he had received from his colleagues, saying he could not do so while negotiations were still under way.

"The key thing that needs to be emphasised is under any arrangement it would remain a national park and public access would be guaranteed."

The settlement is expected to include a financial redress package of between $135 million and $170 million.

One party insider said Tuhoe might be a victim of Cabinet "push-back" against Maori issues. A Tuhoe settlement comes hard on the heels of support for the United Nations Declaration of Indigenous Rights, Whanau Ora budget announcements and the foreshore and seabed repeal proposals.

Tuhoe's chief negotiator, Tamati Kruger, said he hoped Tuhoe's settlement aims would not be jeopardised simply because of timing.

"We didn't choose the timing or the context of it all, but we are now in the context of the mining issue, the foreshore and seabed, Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Whanau Ora, all of that. I have never prayed so much in my life."

Asked if there was a risk the settlements process would be affected by any such "push-back", Mr Finlayson said the National Government had pledged to try to settle claims by 2014 and that remained his intention.

Mr Kruger said the tribe still wanted a response from the Government by May 14 but acknowledged politics was a factor.

The tribe had picked up on anxiety about a possible backlash and had met several ministers, political parties and park user groups to explain how Tuhoe ownership would affect them. He believed most were reassured.

Some backbench MPs are also understood to be cautious about public reaction, given the recreational importance of the Ureweras. One MP said other mechanisms - such as shared management - had been successful and were generally accepted.

However, the tribe has been clear that ownership is central to the claim. Tuhoe argues land is needed to express another key negotiation point - mana motuhake or a degree of autonomy, which it hopes will see Government functions such as health and education devolved to the tribe.

A Waitangi Tribunal report last year said 24,147ha of Tuhoe land was confiscated during the 19th century. The national park was established in 1954.

BACKLASH FEARS
Senior National MPs are worried about public reaction to recent deals with the Maori Party including:

* The United Nations Declaration of Indigenous Rights.

* $500 million for Whanau Ora social services.

* The foreshore and seabed repeal proposals.

* The latest proposal - handing control of Te Urewera National Park over to the Tuhoe tribe.SEE ALSOMinisters get the heebie-jeebies - John Armstrong, A21Progress on a Tuhoe Treaty settlement has stalled because National is split over the issue of returning Te Urewera National Park to the tribe.

- NZ Herald

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