The gifting of 11 Mission St has been described as a significant step taken in "true bi-cultural fashion".

A ceremony today commemorated the transfer of the historic 11 Mission St site from the Tauranga City Council to Ōtamataha Trust.

Trustees, representatives of the Elms Foundation and members of Tauranga City Council were present.

An agreement has been signed that will lease the land back to The Elms Foundation - stewards of The Elms heritage site next door - at a peppercorn rent of $1 a year.

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Ōtamataha Trust chairman Puhiraki Ihaka spoke of the acknowledgement of mana whenua in the ceremony. Photo / George Novak
Ōtamataha Trust chairman Puhiraki Ihaka spoke of the acknowledgement of mana whenua in the ceremony. Photo / George Novak

Puhirake Ihaka, chairman of Ōtamataha Trust, said the day marked the acknowledgement of who he, the trust and whānau were: mana whenua of the site.

"Those who occupy this particular spot, The Elms Foundation, you and us, together we forge a future in terms of the use of this space and how we are going to move forward together in our relationship.

"A small place but absolutely immense in its symbolic significance to us. It is 156 years since 1864 and its confiscation."

The Elms, located on Mission St in Tauranga. Photo / File
The Elms, located on Mission St in Tauranga. Photo / File

The official transfer in May concluded a nearly two-year controversial decision-making process.

The council bought the 1400sq m section in 2006 to secure it for the expansion of The Elms.

In 2018 the council proposed to give the section to the Ōtamataha Trust, which represents the property interests of Ngāti Tapu and Ngai Tamarawaho.

After a fraught series of decisions by the former council, the new council voted to give the land to the trust last year.

Elms Foundation trustee Alan Withy said he as a Pākehā had learned, and was continuing to learn, how to conduct bi-cultural engagements.

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The Elms Foundation trustee Alan Withy. Photo / George Novak
The Elms Foundation trustee Alan Withy. Photo / George Novak

"I take great satisfaction from that learning process and I look forward to furthering the implementation of what Tauranga is promoting at the moment, which is to eventually create a heritage area in and around The Elms.

"It is a very significant step forward, which has to be travelled in a true bi-cultural fashion."

Withy said he wanted to escape the events that had transpired around the ownership of 11 Mission St over the past two years, and instead work together "in a way that those who signed the Treaty in 1840 intended".

Mayor Tenby Powell said being at the site was a spiritual experience and also touched on the moments in council chambers that led to the moment.

"There were split views of what we should do, and as I said in the council meeting, there was no doubt in my mind that we had to do what was right.

"And it is right that we are sitting here today."

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A ceremony took place to acknowledge the transfer of ownership to the Ōtamataha Trust. Photo / George Novak
A ceremony took place to acknowledge the transfer of ownership to the Ōtamataha Trust. Photo / George Novak

Powell hoped the community could grow from the occasion.

"It is about forgiveness and it is about moving forward, but moving forward together. This concept of kotahitanga is very important to me."

Powell said historical and physical links along the Te Papa Peninsula could enhance the community's knowledge while also drawing communities together.