The remote, misty, immense Te Urewera country is a treasured place that no one should own - to own it would be to enslave it, says Ngai Tuhoe.
The unique legal status of Te Urewera was enshrined yesterday in two pieces of legislation approved by Parliament - the Tuhoe Claims Settlement Bill and Te Urewera Bill.
The measures give Tuhoe the lead role in the future of their homeland and include a Crown apology for wrongful killings, illegal land grabs, and scorched-earth warfare - recognised as some of the worst atrocities in New Zealand history.
The settlement includes a $170 million redress payment. Te Urewera will no longer be Crown-owned or a national park, but an independent legal entity with guaranteed public access and environmental protections.
Tuhoe chief negotiator Tamati Kruger said the tribe did not have a traditional view of ownership for Te Urewera.
"It's regarded, treated, as a living thing. You cannot own it. It owns itself. For one to say, 'I own it', is really to say, 'I enslave it'."
Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson, who will travel to Taneatua on August 22 to make the formal Crown apology, said it was a historic settlement.
"For 118 years ago, this House passed legislation which would have achieved a lot of what this legislation sets out to achieve, had the Crown only lived up to its obligations. Tuhoe spent the 20th century essentially locked out of involvement in their own homeland ... [Yesterday] we begin to remedy that history."
The law will record the Crown's apology for what has been called a calculated attempt to destroy Tuhoe.
The bills say: "The relationship between Tuhoe and the Crown, which should have been defined by honour and respect, was instead disgraced by many injustices, including indiscriminate raupatu (confiscations), wrongful killings, and years of scorched earth warfare."
A new Te Urewera Board will have members from Tuhoe and the Crown. It will develop a management plan and make decisions by consensus to ensure the natural, recreational and cultural value of the area.
In Parliament yesterday, a packed public gallery of Tuhoe representatives broke into a long waiata and haka at the end of the bills' reading.
"It's a great way to get everything out from the inside, both the pent-up anxiety, fear, but also joy, elation and a lot of hope," Mr Kruger said. "The words and sentiments of those songs became reality."
The money would go into social services and infrastructure including housing, education, health, roading and water supply.
"We are confident that in the end, there will be better care of Te Urewera, and the whole of Tuhoe will be involved in that."
All parties voted in favour of the bills, except for New Zealand First, which abstained. Leader Winston Peters said other tribes with a presence in the area were not included in the settlement.
Mr Finlayson said the bills had no effect on the Treaty claims of those other iwi.
A bill passing ownership of 14 Auckland volcanic cones from the Crown to 13 iwi and hapu also passed its final reading yesterday.
Tuhoe Treaty Settlement
•$170 million, including funds already paid from the Tuhoe share in a 2008 central North Island settlement.
•Special legal status for Te Urewera with no owner, nor a national park. Public access and environmental protections guaranteed.
•Te Urewera Board, made up of Tuhoe and Crown representatives, to manage Te Urewera with public consultation.