Two Tauranga hapū will be able to reconnect with their whenua with reserve land likely to be returned to them.
Ngāi Te Ahi and Ngāti Hē are mana whenua of Te Pāhou Reserve/Hammond St Reserve in Welcome Bay.
The land was purchased by Tauranga City Council in 1982 and since 2000 the hapū have asked for the council to consider returning ownership to them.
Te Pāhou contains an urupā and is a highly significant cultural heritage site with historical, spiritual, and ancestral values.
The council made an in principle decision to transfer ownership of the land to the hapū at a meeting on Monday.
Speaking after the meeting, Ngāi Te Ahi and Ngāti Hē representative Te Atarangi Whiu said it was “pivotal moment” to be one step closer to returning ownership.
”We’re not quite yet across the finish line, but we’re closer to the finish line.
”Our aspiration is that we reconnect to the whenua.”
They wanted to regenerate the land and improve its ecology and biodiversity, she said.
”As a result of that we are then able to practise our cultural traditions in and around that whenua.
”This would enable them to impart knowledge/mātauranga to current hapū members and future generations.
”Not only are we doing this for us today, but it’s also for the generations that are not yet born.”
The hapū's loss of land occurred in their grandparent’s lifetime and they had all experienced a loss of connection physically and spiritually to their whenua, Whiu said.
”We continue to use it [the land] in a limited way today as a cemetery - an urupā, but that has been hard on our hapū in terms of access and our inherent right…to be able to do the things that we should be able to do on that reserve.”
Commissioner Shadrach Rolleston told the meeting he was aware there was an aspiration for the land to be returned and the hapū had been to council a number of times.
Commission chair Anne Tolley said: “When you listen to the history and you understand there’s an urupā in the middle that needs access and a long history associated with the site, it’s a logical decision to make.”
Council manager of strategic Māori engagement Carlo Ellis said the decision was a mature symbol.
”We’re recognising that on that piece of whenua, the community’s achieved a lot out of it and had everything they’ve needed from it in terms of transport solutions. Due to the humility and patience of the hapū they’ve held fast to their aspiration, but worked with us to get to this point.”
After the meeting, Ellis said what was being returned was a fraction of Te Pāhou.
He said they were getting the leftover land that hadn’t been used for roads and highways.
Ngāi Te Ahi and Ngāti Hē representative Anthony Ririnui said they were happy to receive the land and the hapū looked forward to enabling a cultural and spiritual connection to the whenua.
The in-principle decision will go out to the public for consultation and a final decision will be made by the commission early next year.
- Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ on Air