Iwi - Ruapehu land was taken off us

By Laurel Stowell, laurel.stowell@wanganuichronicle.co.nz

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The southern slopes of Mt Ruapehu are among the lands and rivers to be discussed soon in the Treaty of Waitangi claim by Ruapehu iwi (tribe) Ngati Rangi.

Its pou arahi (manager) Che Wilson would not say exactly what the iwi would ask for, but stressed that users of Tongariro National Park have nothing to fear from the claim.

"The key message we want to send is that Treaty settlement is about a recognition of the wrongs, and it's about identifying how iwi and the community can work together to grow our region," Mr Wilson said.

One of the wrongs was exposed in a Waitangi Tribunal report released just before Christmas. It said Horonuku Te Heuheu did not intend to offer the Tongariro area to the Crown as a gift in 1887. Instead he wanted a co-trusteeship with the Crown, but that partnership had never happened.

Mr Wilson said Te Heuheu was coerced into the "gift" and had been under house arrest for 11 years at the time it was made.

The interests of Ngati Rangi were not recognised when the southern side Mt Ruapehu became part of Tongariro National Park, he said.

"The southern side of the mountain was taken off us. The park has been a national park for 125 years. We are no longer allowed to do a lot of our customary practices in the park.

"We know that it's the nation's park. We want it to continue to be the nation's park, but there may be the odd thing that changes."

He said control of the park could be moved from the Conservation Department to a Crown-iwi co-management group, and people needed to be prepared for that.

"We are here. We are just like you. It's our place too. Let's find a way forward," Mr Wilson said.

Skiing on the mountain will not be at risk. Ngati Rangi is the only iwi in New Zealand with its own ski academy and it intends to hold inter-iwi snow championships on the mountain in September.

A group from its Ngati Rangi Trust left last weekend for a series of NZ meetings, seeking the mandate to represent the iwi in its Treaty of Waitangi claim. The group included three kaumatua (elders) and has nine hui (meetings) to attend, stretching from Auckland to Christchurch. The first of them was at Tirorangi Marae, near Ohakune, on February 9.

Members of the iwi will be asked to vote on whether the trust can represent them in the claim.

The claim is a comprehensive one, for the southern slopes of the mountain, lands in the Waimarino and Waiouru areas, and rivers such as the Hautapu and upper Whangaehu.

Members' voting closes on March 1. The trust needs a "yes" vote of more than 50 per cent in order to represent the iwi.

The claim is part of the Whanganui District Inquiry (Wai 903). The inquiry's large area has been divided into sections and Ngati Rangi's northern section could be the first to be heard.

The iwi has 2000 registered members, but an estimated 5000 to 7000 descendants in total. It was in good heart, Mr Wilson said, and already had a health clinic, Maori language immersion school, environment office and two community services offices.

"We decided not to wait for Treaty settlement but to develop ourselves now, in the hope that when we get the Treaty settlement there won't be too much change required," Mr Wilson said.

The iwi wants to progress the settlement quickly and help growth in its district. The Atihau Whanganui Incorporation is already Ruapehu's biggest ratepayer. And Ngati Rangi is likely to get ownership of the Karioi Forest, source of a lot of employment, in its settlement.

Mr Wilson has been its pou arahi since April 2011 and he said the job was not as rosy as people might think.

"I have no weekends with my family. My kids know hui but they don't know holiday," he said.

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