An Eastern Bay of Plenty iwi has received a public apology from the Government for Treaty of Waitangi breaches at a settlement deed signing today.
The iwi will receive $11.3 million in returns from the Government as a result of the settlement but also a public apology and acknowledgment of Treaty breaches over the decades.
Te Mana chairman Leith Comer says it was a "significant" day to hear an acknowledgment of "pain" that the Crown had "inflicted in the past" and "for the hurt and suffering".
Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Hon Andrew Little was at Rangitihi Marae in Matatā to sign a Deed of Settlement for the Crown with Te Mana o Ngāti Rangitihi Trust to settle historical Treaty claims.
The signing followed approval by 91 per cent of iwi members who voted for the negotiated settlement package in August 2020.
Ngāti Rangitihi is a Te Arawa iwi based in and around Rotorua, Kaingaroa and Matatā, and has approximately 5,300 registered members.
The iwi would receive $4m plus interest, as well as interest in forest lands valued at $7.3m. This was part of the 2008 Central North Island Forest Lands Collective Settlement.
The Deed of Settlement included a historic account, Crown acknowledgements of how and when it breached the Treaty, and a Crown apology.
Culturally significant lands would be returned and there would be relationship agreements with government agencies, the deed read.
An entity was also to be set up to restore and protect the mauri of Tarawera Awa and Te Awa o Te Atua with $500,000 in funding.
Comer said having a minister of the Crown acknowledge the "pain they've inflicted in the past" and "apologise for the hurt and suffering" it caused upon the people was the most significant to the iwi.
Comer said today's settlement acknowledged that they were the "rightful owners of our whenua and awa".
He said today they would begin to get back "culturally significant" land taken from their people, including parts of Lake Tarawera.
In 1954, the Crown had granted the paper and pulp factories a free lease to put anything in the Tarawera River, which quickly became the "most polluted" in the country, he said.
This had now been returned to Ngāti Rangitihi, who would slowly address the problem, he said.
"That sort of thing is really important."
Another positive outcome from the settlement was that many were able to learn more about their history throughout the Treaty process, which was "enriching", he said.
"No settlement will ever be able to compensate for the hurt our people suffered, but today represents the beginning of a new era where we can achieve our cultural, environmental, social and economic aspirations for Ngāti Rangitihi."
The mood at the marae today was a "mixed bag", he said, with sadness for those who had suffered in the past and for those who had made claims but were no longer around.
But there was also a "great deal of joy" as a result of the resolution, he said.
"Huge numbers of our people have come here to celebrate and the marae is full of our people and their children."
The deed also enabled enduring relationships with neighbouring iwi, including Tūhourangi, Ngāti Awa and Ngāti Tūwharetoa.
He said the settlement reflected the tireless work done by many within Ngāti Rangitihi to get to this point.
The trust had been in direct negotiations with the Crown since 2015, but Comer said the journey started well before that.
He said they acknowledged the work of Ngāti Rangitihi claimants who stood firm by their commitment to achieve the best settlement they could for the iwi.
Following today's ceremony, the settlement would be progressed through Parliament over the course of 2021 until it became law.
He said they planned to develop a new, future-focused strategic plan for the trust, which would incorporate key social, cultural and economic developments that would be rolled out over the coming years to benefit Ngāti Rangitihi descendants.
"It's now about getting all our people reconnected with the whenua."
Elections for new trustees would also be held over the coming year, he said.
Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Andrew Little said in a statement that Ngāti Rangitihi's historical grievances against the Crown included its failure to act in good faith when leasing and purchasing Ngāti Rangitihi land blocks, excessive land taking at Te Ariki for Public Works and a failure to ensure Ngāti Rangitihi had sufficient land to support themselves in the aftermath of the Tarawera eruption.
"Crown actions and omissions against Ngāti Rangitihi have resulted in loss of most of their ancestral lands and the dispersal and displacement of their people," he said.
"While no redress can ever fully compensate for the loss and distress that Ngāti Rangitihi has suffered, this settlement provides a base for a strong economic and cultural future for Ngāti Rangitihi and marks the beginning of the restoration of the relationship with the Crown."