While historic grievances were remembered as part of Waitangi Day yesterday, a modern Treaty issue is still being felt among Te Arawa. University of Otago Maori studies chairman Professor Paora Tapsell outlines in his words why Te Arawa is fighting for their mountain, Moehau, the resting place of Tamatekapua.

Control of Coromandel's highest peak, Nga Tihi o Moehau o Tamatekapua (Moehau), is a contemporary Treaty issue of major concern not just to Te Arawa, but all New Zealand.

It represents the tip of a much wider Hauraki settlement backlash coming from all points of the tribal compass (Tauranga Moana, Tamaki Makaurau, Waikato) and likely to become a hot election issue for Maori.

Moehau is a primary example of the Crown's passive interference in determining who will benefit or be excluded from Treaty settlement resources. Since 1840 this tactic has kept tribes divided, sometimes resulting in war, and is at the core of most of our 19th century Maori land alienation claims.

Professor Paul Tapsell
Professor Paul Tapsell

The Moehau crisis did not begin last month, but in the 1870s when the Waikato-based Native Land Court controversially awarded title over Moehau to non-Te Arawa aligned Hauraki tribes during a time when our elders were prevented from attending. Immediately after, these titles were relinquished to the Crown.

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Only Moehau summit block survived, which was retained by a Marutuahu individual not known to Te Arawa. Nevertheless, Ngati Hei and Ngati Huarere continued Arawa's unbroken mana/authority over Moehau's summit forests and ancestral sites for the next 100 years.

In 1979 the Moehau ownership dispute resurfaced when Ngati Marutuahu filed an exclusive succession order over the 50ha summit block. Led by the chairman of Te Arawa Maori Trust Board our elders mobilised in force and met Ngati Maru head-on at Te Pai o Hauraki Marae near Thames. After a heated exchange Ngati Maru conceded that Moehau was indeed still Te Arawa's chiefly mountain.

In turn, Te Arawa gratefully acknowledged Ngati Maru for providing shelter to Tuhourangi after the 1886 Tarawera eruption and then invited Ngati Maru to share in maintaining Moehau's custodianship - through common whakapapa from Hei - to which their elders graciously accepted. This customary arrangement not only maintained, but also enhanced the mana of both tribes.

In 1980 the succession order was legally formalised by the Maori Land Court in accordance with our Te Pai o Hauraki hui. A three strong Te Arawa-led trusteeship was affirmed under a 439 native reservation, supported by two Ngati Maru and one Kingitanga trustee appointments.

Today only a Ngati Maru trustee survives. In 2012 he urged Te Arawa to appoint their three replacement trustees. He warned that the upcoming new generation of Hauraki negotiators, blinded by mining rights, sought control over wider Moehau, including renaming the peaks. He spoke candidly of how he and other elders now passed on, had been ignored and he feared for the Pai o Hauraki agreement, our summit reservation and how both risked being negated or even legally erased under a Hauraki settlement.

In 2013 Te Arawa learned first hand that the warnings were real. After repeated inquiries, the Crown admitted that a significant portion of the Crown owned Moehau summit (DoC) forest was to be returned to the Hauraki Collective as settlement. This triggered Te Arawa into action. Minutes of the 1979 hui, plus court records, both highlighting Ngati Maru's admission that Moehau was Te Arawa's mountain were forwarded to the Crown.

Meetings with Crown and Hauraki negotiators also occurred. By 2016 Te Arawa's elders were optimistic the Crown's settlement offer to Hauraki would accurately reflect and include more than 700 plus years of unbroken Moehau history. Besides, even the Crown must be aware that tribes throughout New Zealand continue to recognise Moehau as Te Arawa's chiefly mountain - maunga ariki - in the same way Taupiri is to Tainui; Tongariro to Tuwharetoa; Taranaki to nga iwi o Taranaki; Maungapohatu to Ngai Tuhoe, Aoraki to Ngai Tahu and Hikurangi to Ngati Porou.

On December 22 last year Te Arawa's 150 years of unwavering faith in its treaty partner, the Crown, was cruelly crushed. The Crown initialled a Deed of Settlement that transfers 1000ha of Moehau to the Ngati Maru-led Hauraki Collective.

Map of the ownership. PHOTO/SUPPLIED
Map of the ownership. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

The map released showed the extent of the transfer, land locking the summit reservation and alienating our many wider ancestral sites and burials to strangers. Te Arawa's uncontestable and exclusive mana whenua over Moehau o Tamatekapua was denied. As one elder responded: kia tupato i nga iwi o Hauraki, ka ara ake a Tama... Tama is stirring. Hauraki better tread carefully.

On Friday January 20 at 4am Te Arawa gathered in the rain on Te Papa-i-Ouru Marae in front of Tamatekapua. Wrapped in karakia his grandchildren acknowledged the Moehau granite in the centre of the marae before departing for Whitianga four hours away.

At least 275 descendants from all corners of Te Arawa responded to Ngati Hei and Ngati Huarere's invitation for help. We met on Ko Te Hamatiti Marae and discussed why the Crown remains intent on giving away our mountain to strangers.

Hariata Kereopa and Ellen Tamati during Te Arawa's bus trip to Whitianga. PHOTO/SUPPLIED
Hariata Kereopa and Ellen Tamati during Te Arawa's bus trip to Whitianga. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

After our hui at Whitianga a Te Arawa delegation of leaders (Te Pukenga Koeke o Te Arawa) were invited by Chief Crown Negotiator Rick Barker to sit down with him in Thames to directly discuss our Moehau concerns.

The senior Arawa descent elder of Hei and Tamatekapua (Ngati Hei, Ngati Huarere and supported by Ngati Hako), diplomatically, but firmly reminded the Crown of its good faith obligations and responsibilities to Te Arawa who still live in the shadow of Moehau, spanning 25 generations since the time Hei, Tamatekapua and their families actually lived on and were buried in the wider peaks, ridges and valleys of Moehau.

Our delegation then requested the Crown amend the Pare Hauraki Deed of Settlement to properly reflect and preserve Te Arawa's overarching interests in Moehau by passing the 1000ha exclusively into Ngati Hei and Ngati Hako ownership (two of the named iwi in the Hauraki Collective) on behalf of all descendants of the Arawa waka ancestors buried there. If this were done, Tamatekapua could rest easy again.

Moehau in the Coromandel - the mountain where Tamatekapua's body lies which is so precious to Te Arawa. PHOTO/SUPPLIED
Moehau in the Coromandel - the mountain where Tamatekapua's body lies which is so precious to Te Arawa. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

With invitations honoured and message to the Crown delivered our weary Te Arawa elders prepared to depart home. However, Ngati Maru negotiators got wind of our meetings and intercepted us. Our elders front-footed the brief exchange by making it clear that mana whenua over Moehau rests exclusively with Te Arawa via Ngati Hei and Ngati Hako within the Hauraki Collective and Ngati Huarere outside it.

It appears that the history of Moehau as relayed to the Crown under the Hauraki Settlement has obscured and misrepresented Te Arawa's very significant interest. Not dissimilar to the 1979 hui at Pai o Hauraki, Te Arawa has again been forced to remind Ngati Maru it will not be denied Moehau.

Enduring settlements are built on fairness and inclusiveness wherein the Crown demonstrably gives equal weighting to Article II of the Treaty: honouring the non-monetary values of customary leadership (tino rangatiratanga), which in Te Arawa, at least, is still maintained by our elders (rangatira) over lands (whenua), people (kainga) and treasured belongings/resources (taonga) ... not least our chiefly mountain, Moehau o Tamatekapua.

I fear today's hurried (politically expedited) settlements, affecting Tamaki, Waikato, Tauranga Moana and Te Arawa will seed tomorrow's new raft of grievances, adding to, rather than solving the deepening Maori social crisis (housing, employment, health and education) of our generation.

There has been a deafening silence from the Crown since Te Arawa sat down with its chief negotiator on January 20. In the meantime Te Arawa elders have sent an invitation to Ngati Maru and wider Hauraki Collective kaumatua, negotiators and representatives to come to Te Papa-i-Ouru Marae, sit in Tamatekapua and explain to him directly how they have come to believe Moehau is no longer our mountain.

- Professor Paora Tapsell is the Maori Studies chairman at the University of Otago.