Echoes of an angry tribe: Crown v Tuhoe

By Catherine Masters

Tamati Kruger reckons you don't have to go far in the Eastern Bay of Plenty to find locals who think Tuhoe living in places like Ruatoki and Waimana are "crazy people".

They think this, the kaumatua believes, because Tuhoe always seem so angry. But, he says, locals have never been able to figure out what makes the people known as the Children of the Mist so angry.

He thinks longevity of memory is the issue.

Tuhoe people inhabiting the rugged Ureweras have been holding on to bad relations with the Crown for 169 years. They will not let go until there is resolution, says the historian and claims negotiator on the phone from Taneatua in Tuhoe country.

"But to their neighbours and maybe to the general Pakeha population who don't have to remember that stuff, Tuhoe just appears to be a bunch of very, very angry Maori people who seem to be disconnected to the 21st century."

To find out where the anger stems from, people could read the newly released first part of the Waitangi Tribunal's report into the troubled history of Tuhoe and the Crown.

The report, though incomplete, finds largely in favour of Tuhoe. People can learn about sweeping land confiscations and military actions which have, in the words of Tribunal judge Patrick Savage, "echoed down through generations and explains the anguish and anger evident to this very day".

The first substantial contact the geographically remote Tuhoe had with the English was when without warning the Crown seized much of their fertile land in 1866 as part of the confiscation of a large tract of Maori land in the Eastern Bay of Plenty.

There were devastating social, economic and cultural impacts, says the Tribunal.

The land was taken to punish not Tuhoe specifically but Maori involved in attacks in the region, including the killing of missionary Carl Volkner and government agent James Fulloon.

The Tribunal, though, makes clear Tuhoe were not responsible: "The time has come to lay this myth to rest. Tuhoe were not involved in the killings of either Volkner or Fulloon."

Their land was taken anyway because they were swept up in the hostilities of others.

What has become known as the Crown's scorched earth policy followed in the years to come.

After the confiscation, Tuhoe sided with spiritual and guerilla leader Te Kooti from the Gisborne area and the Tribunal finds the Crown was justified in military action in 1869 to find Te Kooti when he was in hiding in Te Urewera.

But the Crown's measures were "merciless", wrote Savage in a preface letter to part one of the report.

Tuhoe were killed and their crops, homes and taonga destroyed in attempts to starve them out of the region.

The senior military officer involved in events of 1869 talked to his troops of "extermination" and Savage says women were likely raped.

The ramifications of these events and the ensuing failure of a relationship with the Crown are still apparent, the Tribunal believes.

When its members visited the region for Tuhoe's Treaty claims hearings they saw poverty which shocked them and talked about a sense of hopelessness in some areas.

"Most New Zealanders would not believe such conditions exist in this country; nor would they find them acceptable in a fair society," says the report.

Those conditions, writes the Tribunal, reflect the bleak relationship of its Te Urewera's peoples and the Crown from the very start.


The first part of the report is powerful reading and upholds grievances. But whether it hints at the upholding of an aspect of the Tuhoe claims which would make for a historical finding is yet to be seen. The rest of the report is still being completed.

What Tuhoe wants is self-governance. Their constitutional claim is based in part on the fact they never signed the Treaty of Waitangi.

In fact, says the Tribunal in the first part of the report, the Treaty was never taken to Te Urewera for them to sign.

The Tribunal upholds Tuhoe's view that since their tipuna knew nothing of the Treaty, the Treaty could not in any real sense take effect to bind them to its terms.

The report talks a lot about what mana motuhake (roughly translated as sovereignty) means to Tuhoe.

The recurring theme for Tuhoe, from the land seizure of 1866 and onwards, was mana motuhake.

A governing council of chiefs was instigated in the 1870s, the 1890s saw the struggle for recognition of an autonomous native reserve continue and in the early 1900s prophet Rua Kenana built his thriving remote community at the sacred mountain of Maungapohatau.

The Tribunal says that for Tuhoe, mana motuhake has connotations of unique power and authority, freedom, liberty, nationhood, self determination and independence.

"We cannot pass over the significance of mana motuhake because it is what makes Tuhoe who they are."

Kruger says this sort of talk in a Tribunal report is unusual.

"That's usually an area the Tribunal keeps away from. In other words, it's too political, but in this light the Tribunal clearly sees it and points to it as a critical part of the resolution and settlement of Tuhoe claims."

Something else he finds encouraging is a turn in Crown/Tuhoe relations.

Tuhoe and the Crown are talking, nicely this time, about the settlement of the claims.

Among those talks, the constitutional claim is being discussed and the talks have been "positive, open and honest."

This in itself is pretty amazing, he says.

There is nothing to be feared from an independent Tuhoe nation, says Kruger.

The constitutional claim does not mean they want to cut themselves off from the rest of New Zealand and live behind fences.

Mana motuhake is not a racial or cultural issue, he says. It is a political issue.

The way Tuhoe sees it, there has only ever been a presumption by the Crown that it governs Tuhoe.

"But even by its own rules, even by the rules of democracy, there is no formal arrangement between the Crown and Tuhoe."

And while Tuhoe view themselves as an independent Tuhoe nation, they also view themselves as part of the global community - and as New Zealanders, he says.

In fact, Tuhoe would never survive by isolating themselves from everyone else and that is not what the claim is about, he says.

"Tuhoe are a global people, we are located all over the world and we are part of New Zealand society and other cultures and we like it.

"What we require is a political arrangement and relationship with the Crown and that's about it."


In practical terms, this means the Crown and Tuhoe would have to sit down and work out an arrangement of policy interaction and governance interaction, where Tuhoe would get certain portfolios of Government and would manage and govern themselves with the "maximum autonomy."

"So, we might be talking about things like, say in the short term, education and welfare, housing, roading, environment."

Taking over the education portfolio, for example, would mean not only teaching their people the way they want to, but the way it has to be for them to continue to be global and New Zealand citizens, says Kruger, but without losing their culture, language and identity.

"Now, that's not said with arrogance and vanity. That is said on the basis of the 160-year relationship with the Crown."

The claim is not a competition or a protest, he says. "It's really a restoring of Tuhoe society, a restoring of Tuhoe prosperity."

Both Tuhoe and the Crown see that even after a deed of settlement is agreed, assuming the Crown accepts self-governance, there will be legal issues that might take a generation, or two generations, before they are manifested, he says.

But if indeed the claim is accepted, this would be unique to New Zealand.

Kruger believes New Zealand is ready for such a political arrangement.

"I think we're more forward thinking now, more forward looking. But how forward that is is about to be tested."


"Other people talk about how their ancestors voyaged across the Pacific and landed at various places on various waka ...

"The Ruatahuna [in the heart of the Ureweras] people basically say that if you know where those mountains come from, then that's where we come from ...

"If you can trace where the mist comes from and if you can age it, then you have discovered how long we have been here and where we come from.

"That, to me, is the true meaning of Nga Tamariki o te Kohu ... it's the Ruatahuna people saying 'we are the descendants of these mountains and the mist'. A very poetical way of saying 'we've been here forever.

"I tipu mai matou i te whenua ... We are this land and we are the face of the land. When this land emerged from wherever we were on it ... Wherever those mountains come from that's where we come from. Wherever the mist emerges from and disappears to, that's where we come from ...

"That is the meaning of 'The Children of the Mist'. That is why it is referred to as the Kohanga of Tuhoe ... the origins of Tuhoe."

- Tamati Kruger, Part one of the Te Urewera Waitangi Tribunal report.


What were the immediate and long-term impacts of military expeditions in the late 1860s and early 1870s on the Tuhoe people?

Catastrophic, says the Tribunal.

"Many people were left without food or shelter, and this contributed to a high death toll when an influenza epidemic struck in 1870.

"At least 12 per cent of the Urewera population died as a direct or indirect result of the Crown's conduct of its expeditions, both as casualties and as a result of hunger and disease.

"As well as the immediate hardship involved, this had significant effects on the social structure of Te Urewera. The population appears to have stabilised by the 1880s as a result of a high post-war birth rate.

"Most of the economic impact, while destructive and severe, was relatively short-lived. Parts of the traditional economy had recovered by the mid-1870s.

"The peoples of Te Urewera were more permanently affected by the loss of the confiscated land.

"Nonetheless, their mana motuhake [sovereignty] was 'trampled'.

"Many taonga, moreover, were destroyed or desecrated by the expeditionary forces.

"These losses could not be replaced in the way that homes could be rebuilt and crops replanted. The peoples of Te Urewera have been left with a long-term sense of grievance, seeing themselves as 'te kai o te ahi' [food for the flames].

"In all of these ways - socially, economically, and culturally - the claimants were prejudiced by the Crown's conduct of its expeditions, its failure to make peace in a fair and timely manner, and its failure to provide appropriate assistance and redress."


In 2005, when the Waitangi Tribunal hearings were held in Ruatoki, now better known for the "terror-raids" of 2007, Tuhoe put on a powerful re-enactment of the Crown's scorched earth policy which destroyed crops, property and homes in the second half of the 1800s.

Tribunal members encountered naked warriors on horseback and shots rang out across the valley but the release of pent-up emotion was overtaken by the public's response to Tame Iti who infamously shot the New Zealand flag while on a marae.

The report mentions nothing specifically about the events of that day but clearly the Tribunal was not offended by anything that happened.

Part one of the Te Urewera report says only this: "Our visit here began with great drama, the point of which was to convey Tuhoe's sense of loss and anger at raupatu [land confiscation].

"Unfortunately, the message was misconstrued by the media and thus by the ... public as simply unfocused hostility. In fact, our hearings that week were conducted with complete propriety and in accordance with tikanga."

To read part one of the Te Urewera report, go to:

- NZ Herald

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