Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Iwi push claim to Awaroa as people of NZ take ownership

The beach was privately owned by European families until it was bought for the nation with $2.3 million donated through a Givealittle campaign last summer.
The beach was privately owned by European families until it was bought for the nation with $2.3 million donated through a Givealittle campaign last summer.

Awaroa Beach becomes part of the Abel Tasman National Park today after 40,000 Kiwis raised the money to buy it - but local Maori want the Government to hand it on to them.

At least 200 people are expected to turn up by boat and on foot at midday for the handover of the remote beach, which sits in the middle of Abel Tasman National Park.

The beach was privately owned by European families until it was bought for the nation with $2.3 million donated through a Givealittle campaign last summer.

Wakatu Incorporation chairman Paul Morgan, who will speak for local iwi at the handover, said the 7ha beach property should not have been taken from its original Maori owners.

"Our view hasn't changed, the Government is in possession of land that actually belongs to Maori," he said.

Wakatu, which is owned by the four local iwi, has been fighting a legal case since 2010, alleging the Government failed to honour a promise by the New Zealand Company to set aside of the land it bought from local Maori for the Maori people. The case reached the Supreme Court last October but the court has not yet issued a judgment.

Morgan said he would speak about the history today but there would be no protests.

"We don't protest. We use the facts and the system," he said.

Iwi historian John Mitchell said the iwi tried to get the Awaroa land returned in a Waitangi Tribunal claim in 2000-03 but the tribunal refused because it had no jurisdiction over privately owned land.

But he said his personal view was iwi should now seek co-management of the land with the Conservation Department rather than outright iwi ownership.

He praised Christchurch brothers-in-law Duane Major and Adam Gard'ner who started the Givealittle campaign.

Major, a Baptist pastor and former youth leader, has taken hundreds of young people to the beach over the years and his family regularly holidays at a Conservation Department campground in the bay.

His parents, Gard'ner's parents and both men's wives and children will be at the ceremony today.

Associate Conservation Minister Nicky Wagner, who will officially receive the land today, said agreements to settle all historical claims in the area were signed between the Crown and eight iwi between 2010 and 2013.

"At this point in time, Awaroa Beach was held in private ownership and therefore not available for use as part of a Treaty settlement."

- Herald on Sunday

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