The volcanic cones of Auckland have not always enjoyed the protection and respect they are likely to be accorded now under a settlement of rival Treaty claims to the city. The ownership of 11 maunga - among them, One Tree Hill, Mt Eden, Mt Victoria, Mt Hobson, Big King and Mangere Mountain - will be jointly held by 12 iwi and hapu with the cones' reserve status, public access and existing rights preserved. The "Tamaki Collective" of tribes and subtribes will also share rights of first refusal on any Crown land to be sold in the region.
It is a settlement that elegantly recognises all the ancestral groups that have fiercely contested the 2006 deal done between the previous Government and Ngati Whatua o Orakei. The deal which largely excluded them and was found, on appeal to the Waitangi Tribunal, to be too "flawed" to stand.
Under the new settlement the Orakei subtribe will be content with $18 million, plus the Purewa Creek conservation area, the purchase of Devonport Naval Base for leaseback to the Crown and to "explore" a similar acquisition of the land under Mt Eden Prison.
Another major claimant, Te Kawarau A Maki, will receive $6.5 million, Riverhead Forest, scenic reserves, the right to purchase and leaseback Clark House at Hobsonville and explore the same arrangement for the prison land at Paremoremo. The prospect of becoming landlords of Auckland prisons may attract as much comment as the transfer of the maunga but similar sales of prison land to Maori are contained in settlements covering Wanganui Kaitoke and Rimutaka prisons.
The Auckland agreement is a credit to all leaders of the tribes concerned, particularly those of Ngati Whatua who have had to endure challenges to their long cherished tangata whenua status on the isthmus. It is also a credit to the Government's appointed interlocutor, Sir Douglas Graham, that the vexed issues appear to have been resolved fairly rapidly and amicably.
Sir Douglas approached the task last year with few expectations. He went about meeting the rival groups separately to see if he could see any room for compromise. He told us in April, "If I don't think I'm making progress in the next two or three months, well, I'll advise them of that and there's not much more I can do."
By late June he had the bones of a $180 million agreement with five major groups under which they would share ownership of the volcanic cones and the first refusal rights on Crown land sales, both of which had been awarded to Ngati Whatua o Orakei alone in the 2006 agreement. The Orakei people also faced a renegotiation of their Devonport Naval Base deal which Sir Douglas found to be on on terms that were neither commercial nor transparent.
There were more than 30 hapu in the region from Kaipara to Coromandel with competing interests and claims that have been halted by the Auckland impasse. Sir Douglas concentrated on two of them, Te Kawarau a Maki and Ngati Whatua o Orakei, saying last year, "If we can get [them] to agree then I'm confident the others will make reasonable progress next year as well."
If he is right, the agreements signed last Friday will free the log-jam and Attorney-General Chris Finlayson could get on with the Government's aim to conclude outstanding Treaty grievances by 2014. There are about 60 claims waiting for settlement, a dozen of them in the Auckland region.
The concessions made by Ngati Whatua o Orakei for this settlement have a significance beyond the stated terms. They implicitly acknowledge that Auckland was a war zone in the decade before 1840, was largely vacant when it became the colonial capital, and many different people, then as now, could call it their own.