Whanganui iwi expect the title of Pakaitore/Moutoa Gardens to come back to them, Mariana Waitai told a group yesterday.
She was the "lunchtime entertainment" for this year's Tira Hoe Waka - people descended from the iwi, who paddle the river and hear its stories in an organised group every January. They started the journey at Maungarongo Marae in Ohakune on January 5.
This year, there were about 130, Hayden Potaka said - some paddling and some joining them by road. They finish with evaluations and farewells at Putiki Marae today.
Stopped at Pakaitore/Moutoa Gardens, some sprawled out on the grass to listen to Ms Waitai, while many young ones cooled off by swimming from the Union Boat Club pontoon. Ms Waitai told them about some of the gardens' landmarks.
She expected the title of the land to come back to the tribe, and for it to be managed by the new Nga Tangata Tiaki Trust.
"We are still looking at shutting the road down so that this whole area can be a walking space and show the connection across the road to the river."
The concrete strip in the grass at the gardens was used to check the length of chain measures used to survey land before it was sold.
Ms Waitai said the measure was "the worst symbol of oppression" that she knew.
"The only ones that benefited were tauiwi (non-Maori)."
The "stolen" land destroyed the tribe's infrastructure and its people lost their economic base, creating generations of mamae (pain), she said.
She told how a child drowned in the fountain at the gardens during the iwi's occupation in 1995, and how the statue of Premier John Ballance was beheaded, with a pumpkin put up as replacement head.
And she warned people using the gardens not to camp under the huge Moreton Bay fig tree, which has been known to drop branches.
Monuments at the gardens, such as the chain and Moutoa monument, should have dual inscriptions, she said.
"What really needs to happen is dual signage. That's the korero of people of the time. Iwi still need to have their own korero to explain where we were coming from."
She remembered other times when big groups were hosted at the gardens - more than 1000 during the Hikoi Takutai Moana (Foreshore and Seabed March) in 2004. The tangi for Piripi Haami was also held in that place, where he had spent a lot of time doing security duty.
"Every time we were on here you would always find Piripi here, under that tree on that side, from midnight to six."
The place was open to people for hosting others, she said, provided they could pay the bills and provide a good level of hospitality.