After almost becoming extinct, Waikato iwi Ngāti Hinerangi has had its cultural identity reaffirmed after its Treaty settlement passed into law.
Ngāti Hinerangi, whose rohe includes the Matamata township, the Kaimai Ranges, and through to Tauranga Moana harbour, will receive more $8.1 million in financial redress, after its settlement legislation passed its third and final reading in Parliament yesterday.
The redress includes a $200,000 cultural fund, $20,000 for a marae rebuild and the return of 14 sites of cultural significance.
It will also receive an apology for the 100,000 hectares of land that were confiscated in Tauranga in 1863 and for the invasion of their villages four years later, where government forces destroyed crops and homes, and punished those opposed to the land confiscation.
As the settlement legislation passed into law, the 130 iwi members from across the country who had gathered in the public gallery of Parliament rose to sing a waiata and do a haka.
Lead negotiator Dianna Vaimoso was overcome with emotion, saying it was a proud moment for the iwi which had found its identity through the settlement process.
"I can't believe that we're finally here and I know that as far as our identity as Ngāti Hinerangi, this has hit the top ... it can only get higher from here," Vaimoso said.
"We are tuturu Ngāti Hinerangi and everyone's seen it now."
Vaimoso's uncle Matua Kore McMillan Koperu started the negotiation process back in 2004-2005 when he pushed for Ngāti Hinerangi to be recognised as an iwi in its own right, rather than a hapū of Ngāti Raukawa.
She said it took her a "while to hop on the waka", but she finally joined the Te Puāwaitanga o Ngāti Hinerangi Iwi Trust in 2008-2009.
Her uncle passed not long after, leaving her to carry on his legacy.
"That's certainly what I've tried to do every day, is carry his legacy through, and of course if my uncle had not said that, one more generation and we would have been extinct, we were close to it.
"The reasoning for that is a lot of our women had married into Raukawa so it became Raukawa kawa (protocol) for us and we had forgotten who we actually were."
Surrounding iwi, including Ngāti Haua, Tauranga Moana, Raukawa and Hauraki, had supported them through the settlement process, despite the challenges of overlapping claims, but she felt that everyone had come through the process with their mana intact.
The iwi now had its sight firmly on encouraging its people to return home, with the iwi membership already growing from 220 to 1400 in the past five years.
Its labour hire crew, Wairere Mahi, employs 22 kaimahi who try to set iwi members up with fulltime employment while connecting them with their marae and ahurea (culture).
Already, 27 iwi members have secured jobs, and Vaimoso hopes with their iwi settlement they will be able to grow that number.
It also runs Wairere Toi, a collective of haka, reo, art and history enthusiasts in the iwi who work in seven schools in the region to revitalise their culture.
Minister of Treaty Negotiations Andrew Little said it marked "a new beginning in realising the settlement promises made to Ngāti Hinerangi".