The Uenuku Charitable Trust wants to create a transformative iwi-led ecological restoration and tourism project on its ancestral land, trust member Moana Ellis says.

Proposing it was one of the aims of the trust's Rā Wawata/Aspirations Day on March 9. The trust is representing three iwi - Uenuku, Tamakana and Tamahaki - in the Te Korowai o Wainuiārua negotiation for land claims in the middle reaches of the Whanganui River.

The claims cover 615,320ha, most of it managed by the Conservation Department. The three iwi have a total of about 8000 members, Ms Ellis said.

Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Andrew Little was invited to the day, with the aim of introducing him to the iwi and its land.


He was to have been welcomed at Te Poti Marae, opposite Pipiriki, but the Whanganui River was too high. Instead he was welcomed at the Uenuku Charitable Trust office in Raetihi.

After some talk he was taken on a bus tour of Raetihi and Makaranui to get familiar with the area. After lunch the day moved to a farm on the edge of the Erua Conservation Area, where presentations were made in a marquee.

The trust's environmental entity, Te Mano o Te Whenua Tupua, was launched. It's the second pou (entity) for the trust. Its social and cultural Te Ara Tupua was launched in November.

Trust chairman Aiden Gilbert talked about the aspirations of the iwi, and the factors used to determine the value of a settlement were laid out.

Landcare Research scientist Dr John Innes talked of the iwi's aspiration for a forest sanctuary that would protect and nurture native bird populations and double as a tourist and cultural centre.

It will need at least 200ha. The exact location hasn't been chosen, but it will be near the Manganui o Te Ao River, Ms Ellis said.

"It's the heartland of our people. We occupied and used those areas for generations."

Treaty Negotiations Minister Andrew Little holds a whio (blue duck). Photo / John Chapman
Treaty Negotiations Minister Andrew Little holds a whio (blue duck). Photo / John Chapman

Three tōtara trees were planted on the edge of the conservaton land, representing the three iwi and the three entities they will have. And four whio (blue ducks) were released into the Makatote River.

The change of government has delayed Treaty settlement for the trust, Ms Ellis said. It hopes to reach agreement in principle by August this year, and have a deed of settlement agreed to by January 2020.