As its members flock away from the area in droves, Tūhoe's new plan to encourage them back involves a village where everything is shared. It's the first of about 40 they hope to build. Rod Emmerson visits the first site.
There's a clever user-friendly tourist map on the counter of my Whakatāne motel reception desk, inviting visitors to explore the region as far south as Lake Waikaremoana.
It's wonderfully dotted with cute stylised drawings of happy walkers, cyclists, golfers, kiwis wearing sunglasses. Smack in the middle of the map, is the home of the Ngāi Tūhoe iwi, Te Urewera, an area of mostly forested, sparsely populated rugged hill country, much of it in the northern Hawke's Bay Region and some in the eastern Bay of Plenty.
The rugged Urewera ranges are dotted in drawings of hikers, birdlife, folk on horseback, deer and wild pig wearing sunglasses.
I show the map to Tāmati Kruger, chairman of Tūhoe's governing body, Te Uru Taumatua and of the ranges' governing body, Te Urewera Board. He's not seen it before and studies it with great interest. The eyebrows rise and he grins.
"This is great - it brings people to the area."
I point to the hipster pig in sunglasses, and tell him I'm looking forward to seeing one of these up the valley.
What the map doesn't show of course is the history beneath it. The spiritual home of the Tūhoe nation is an all-too-familiar narrative. A timeline of upheaval, land confiscation, the collapse and dispersement of people, the erosion of an indigenous religious culture, the loss of language and a litany of broken promises.
The 2007 Urewera raids didn't help much. Seventeen people were arrested for alleged firearms offences. The Independent Police Conduct Authority later found the raid was justified but police acted unlawfully detaining occupants at five properties. The Human Rights Commission also later ruled innocent people had their human rights contravened when they were illegally searched and detained.
Then-Prime Minister John Key's unfortunate Tūhoe cannibalism joke in 2010 didn't help either. Speaking at a tourism event in Auckland, he said "I would have been dinner," if he had dined with Tūhoe, after a dispute emerged over treaty negotiations.
Tariana Turia, while co-leader of the Maori Party, once lamented she felt Tūhoe had been persecuted by the Crown more than any other iwi.
Yet tenacity and pride has enabled those who remain to survive and dogmatically broker their way through a Waitangi Treaty settlement. While many iwi arrived with armloads of claims, Tūhoe arrived with three. Top of the list was the return of Te Urewera, then a passage to their autonomy, and a financial settlement. They received all three, including the $170m settlement. These would eventually be delivered through years of skilled arbitration.
Post the raids, a conga line of Crown officials have made the pilgrimage to Tāneatua, Te Urewera's nearest town to the north. Also known as the Gateway to Te Urewera, its population was 786 in the 2013 Census.
Annette King, former Police Minister, tells the Weekend Herald she was "devastated at the way Tūhoe were treated".
"I needed to meet and talk to them. Several years passed and finally a meeting was arranged with Tāmati Kruger and Tame Iti. I left our korero with a sense of relief and peace."
Today, Tūhoe have emerged as a united, yet globally scattered people with control of their own destiny. Still healing, but now they have providence. There are now a handful of living monuments to this, with another on its way.
The first was the 2014 Te Urewera Act, the result of its settlement. It expels all preconceived notions and presumptions of sovereignty over the natural world, our national parks and their management, and returns custodial administration to its indigenous peoples through Te Urewera Board. Kruger reveals the act is primarily based on the principles of the Rights of Nature movement, an idea that our ecosystems have rights as much as people, rather than treating nature as property under law.
Considered high-risk at the time, it is seen as a "living, breathing" chronicle, the first of its kind and a potential template for future indigenous negotiations, here and abroad.
It has built three major buildings since its settlement. The first, in 2014, was Te Kura Whare in Tāneatua which is certified by the International Living Future Institute in its Living Building Challenge, which sets a benchmark for sustainable buildings. At the time, it was just one of 15 in the world (there are now 23) and the first in the world outside of the US. Quite an accomplishment given the meticulous standards set by the institute.
Among many requirements, it must:
• produce more energy than it uses and rely on solar power
• collect and treat all water on site.
• use building materials with no negative impact on human and ecosystem health. For example, no asbestos.
• promote a healthy environment (Smoking must be prohibited).
• allow equal access to people regardless of physical abilities, age, or socioeconomic status.
• contribute to the regional economy. For example, 20 per cent or more of the materials must come from within 500 kilometers of the site.
• integrate public art and contain design features intended solely for human delight and the celebration of culture, spirit, and place
The multi-purpose sprawling complex is predominantly made with local timbers and rammed earth. It generates its own electricity, selling it back into the grid. Warm in winter and cool in summer, it collects rainwater, treats its own greywater and sewerage, and provides kai for the kitchen from the gardens at the back.
With "net-zero energy, water, waste and toxicity" it's become one with the environment. Complete with an outdoor amphitheatre, libraries and meeting rooms, you'll also find Colin McCahon's The Urewera Mural. Commissioned by the Urewera National Park Board and hung in the visitor centre in Aniwaniwa, near Lake Waikaremoana, it was stolen in 1997, before Tūhoe member Tame Iti negotiated its return.
Te Kura Whare is a master-stroke by Jasmax's lead architect, Ivan Mercep and his team. More importantly, it's a symbolic platform from where Tūhoe will serve its people for generations.
Subsequent buildings included Te Kura Whenua at Waikaremoana, opened in 2016, and the $12m Te Tii in Ruatahuna which opened last year. It has a general store, a tribal office, cafe, petrol station, motel, radio station, laundry, marketplace, playground, community garden and other outdoor spaces.
But where to from here?
I pose this question to Kruger and he laughs. "We have all sorts of crazy ideas".
In keeping with a comprehensive 40-year economic plan, Tūhoe Te Uru Taumatua is about to embark on the complex journey of housing its people. This was mostly borne out of a crisis within Tūhoe, of which 34,890 people in the 2013 Census were affiliated with.
Kruger says 87 per cent of its people are now vastly dispersed urban dwellers, detached from their spiritual connection to Te Urewera.
Tūhoe wants to reverse that trend and revitalise its iwi. Traverse some of the valley settlements and you soon realise the necessity. But it won't be to everyone's liking, particularly those who wish to climb New Zealand's formidable property ladder.
Being cashed-up doesn't qualify you access. Socially corrosive vices won't be tolerated past the front gate. The giant waka Tūhoe is about to push out is a well-researched utopian communal-style eco-village with a net-zero carbon toxicity footprint that challenges conventional housing projects as we know it.
The hunt to create a unique model for Tūhoe cast a giant net far and wide, and clocked up hundreds of hours of scrutiny. In February 2018, Tūhoe Te Uru Taumatua, subsidiary Tūhoe Tribals and hapu Ngāti Koura hosted a three-day event, Te Ohu. More than 120 guests from around NZ and overseas, from a variety of backgrounds and specialities, came together. A major takeaway was an introduction to an eco-village concept. The first of about 40 Tūhoe hopes to build is due to start construction before the year's end.
Communal living is nothing new, especially to iwi, and there are some stunning contemporary variations scattered around the globe, especially in Chile and Scandinavian countries that work extremely well. West Auckland's Earthsong has been running successfully since conception in 1995. Its website boasts "socially and environmentally sustainable living nurturing a flourishing ecosystem, while encouraging a sense of community while safeguarding privacy and autonomy". These goals align with Tūhoe's philosophy, with the foundation for the village not reinforced concrete, but "kindness, health and wellbeing".
Pawing over the plans with Auckland-based Klein's lead architect Dan McNelis, he clarifies the difference between the project and Earthsong. There is the advantage of 20 years of advancement in building and eco-technology as well as Tūhoe's philosophy for the quality of life for its people. The prototype has its principles embedded in Tūhoe's philosopy of Mana Motuhake (the right or condition of self-government) and its spiritual connection to the Ureweras.
And like Te Kura Whare, its aim is to meet the vigorous standards of the Living Building Challenge.
McNelis points to the village footprint on the 1.7ha site, explaining it allows for future development. A large car parking area is kept well away from housing. Shared driving will be encouraged, as will the use of electric vehicles. From the carpark you must walk. The aged and mobility-restricted will have the closest dwellings and will use buggies if needed. The path leads to a spacious communal building, where there are shared kitchens and laundries, and a gathering area for whānau. There are ample activity areas for children, accommodation for visitors; it's a long list. The path then splits and splinters to six blocks with about four dwellings inside each.
Tūhoe envisage 23 to 25 north-facing homes for 70 to 75 people across a range of ages. The buildings have configurations of one to four bedrooms catering for a broad range of families. Some may be loft-style, others will be fitted for the aged and mobility-restricted.
Small home kitchens (residents are encouraged to use the communal kitchen) are electric, after all, power is solar and free, while gas isn't carbon-neutral. But there are no laundries, dishwashes or baths as they consume far too much water. There are areas for orchards, greywater ponds, recycling, and Tūhoe's preferred mode of transport, horses.
The buildings have been deliberately designed to detail the story of Te Urewera. The timber, the mist, the night sky, it's all there. "Children of the Mist," McNelis says matter-of-factly. He's well versed in Tūhoe's history, and his energy and enthusiasm for eco-design has become a passionate craving to deliver an outstanding eco-environment that blends harmoniously with its spiritual connection to the land.
Tūhoe hopes the concept will encourage members of their tribe to move back from overseas and other metropolitan centres.
Te Uru Taumatua chief executive Kirsti Luke said at a korero recently, "We are poor, but we are also very rich". The sentence resonates with centuries of Tūhoetanga (iwi custom) for me. I keep this in mind in all my discussions across a broad range of folk, as I try to nail down an arbitrary pricing structure for a basic home in the village. That talk is often waved off and doesn't enter conversation. Yet somewhere, money will change hands. McNelis considers this conundrum, and smiles.
"Money is not a priority here".
Any profit comes from the quality of life for its people, he says. They're not a corporate iwi with many financial interests, and they will always deviate and challenge conventional thinking, hence everything to do with this project (and others) is respectfully flipped on its head.
Paul Jones, Tūhoe's housing strategy advisor and a policy director for the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment in Wellington, takes this further, recognising homes in the village are valuable.
"Taking responsibility means that first and foremost, people pay for their house, rather than expect or depend on someone else to pay for them. However, the iwi will ensure that finance is not a prohibitive factor for those who want to live in the village. Individual circumstances will be considered and Tūhoe will support and enable those who need assistance.
"We're also looking at opportunities for people to provide labour, themselves and/or their wider whānau, as a contribution towards construction costs."
I walk the village site on Morrison Rd, on the eastern outskirts of Tāneatua, with Jones, who is on a part-time secondment to Tūhoe, and Shelley Rangihika, co-ordinator for the Tūhoe medical centre.
The paddock has seen better days, but there is definite karma here and you can sense it in the conversation. This was once confiscated land, and the site of the Tāneatua railway station. The only trace now, is the monolithic concrete slab railway platform that juts out of the middle of the treeless surrounds. They have a perfect 3D rendering of the project in their minds' eye. Pointing and waving, they paint a detailed picture across the landscape. They claim only one of all the neighbouring properties is against the project. Rangihika rolls her eyes and mentions they're not Tūhoe. But this doesn't faze their enthusiasm.
There are some heady challenges to this prototype. Foremost, the earthquake fault line beneath and its rural location adds a good 20 per cent to construction costs, so houses are fairly modest in size and the village must provide the necessities to live within its means. Everything within the grounds has purpose, so there is no wastage. And you won't see any of these homes advertised in real estate windows. Whānau, not individuals, will own the house they live in, and this will pass on to future generations.
The land is ancestral land and held in perpetuity for "the common wealth of all Tūhoe". Furthermore, there is no cost to homeowners for use of the land, as this forms part of the iwi's contribution to the village. Only people with a collective commitment to the principles of Mana Motuhake and Tūhoetanga, while maintaining the village philosophy of sustaining its net-zero: carbon footprint, will be among its residents.
How you select, or who qualifies to set sail on this ark is still being mulled over. So is the charter by which the village will live. Communal living isn't exactly on everyone's bucket list, but what this offers is a unique opportunity to opt out of a traditional housing market and return with your whānau to the comfort of flax roots living. It's well documented that being snug-warm and dry in congenial surrounds and part of a community that has your back, means your quality of life and wellbeing improves substantially.
As for your health, the old Tāneatua pub, just minutes away, once a source of aggravation, is now a source of healing, being one of four medical centres in the Ureweras. Disputes among residents - depending on their nature - are resolved by village kaumatua or moved on to Te Kura Whare or one of four tribals for resolution. The Maori Land Court will have no jurisdiction here.
What does the Whakatāne District Council make of all this? Foremost, they are very quick to tell you they're weight is behind all Tūhoe projects.
However, this is on ancestral tribal land, will collect and treat its own water and sewage, provides its own power and recycles everything. Apart from the road to Tāneatua, it has absolute zero impact on the Whakatāne district, so should they even pay rates?
Whakatāne District Council's general manager of strategy and economic development, Julie Gardyne admits "it challenges the council's rating philosophy where (eco) villages are built where there is existing infrastructure".
"However we are very keen to find a solution that recognises and supports the aspiration of Tūhoe. We have done some work looking at rating from similar-types of developments, e.g. Earthsong in Auckland, and intend to workshop the rates approach with the team from Te Uru Taumatua in the near future."
Greens co-leader James Shaw, whose family is from nearby Ōpōtiki, has a very keen eye on the project.
"The Living Building standard that they pioneered in Aotearoa is eye-wateringly high, but we should aspire to build all new homes to that standard, or close to it. Their attention to community values in the design, not just of the individual homes, but of the overall plan, is an inspiration".
The last word on this prototype eco-village comes from the former Prime Minister at the time of the Urewera raids, Helen Clark. She wholeheartedly congratulates Tūhoe "on taking a leadership role on sustainable housing.
"We need many actions like these worldwide in order to ensure sustainable development and a good legacy for future generations."
Clearly, the carex-lined pathway to autonomy has been lit and now there is genuine momentum. Back at Te Kura Whare, I gaze at the striking timber arch that dominates its northern face.
A symbolic reference to that moment where the sun reaches its zenith. It's on their flag. It's the first thing that greets you on arrival in Tāneatua, and the last thing you see before you leave. I didn't get to see the hipster pig in sunglasses up the valley, but I did get to see a lot of smiley faces. The sun has finally dawned on a new era for Tūhoe.
All in the family
Some Tūhoe residents are already embracing communal living.
At the southern end of Ruatoki Valley Rd, the bitumen ends abruptly in bushland, and tracks guide you down to the sandy expanse of the Whakatāne River flood plain. This is 4WD terrain. At the far end, there's a cluster of about six homes that view the river drifting past. This is communal whānau living.
Jason Amoroa brought his family back to his wife's family land for a better quality of life for their children. The family had a mini village, carving out a happy lifestyle. It works because everyone understands they have to contribute serious time and effort to make it work.
They farm pigs; they have their own water system - when the Weekend Herald visited, Noho Tuhaka was digging a drainage ditch.
Would they move to the new eco-village? No, they're very happy here thanks, but they are supportive of the project, and prepared to help them get the journey started.
"For me, to get an insight into it, seeing it on paper and meeting with the developers and the council, and just sitting there and listening and going 'Wow. This is actually happening', I just feel happy this is happening in my time," says Amoroa.
"I can hopefully see a couple more going up too."
Amoroa says life in the valley can be hard and many people are struggling, but they needn't struggle alone. The new village will give them a leg-up, and the lessons learned from this one, can only help the next one, and the one after that.
"It's hard trying to work by yourself but when you've got other families around you, who can actually help out... that's the ideal.
"The majority of people who live out there don't have support, and they look at the system as the support.
"It's about educating our people on how to live better. It's still a long way to get there."
A wider family group also live on whanau land closer to Ruatoki Valley Rd in basic housing, caravans and other structures.
When the Weekend Herald visited, Ohine Riini-Reweti, 11, and Desrae Collier, 10, were entertaining themselves during the first week of school holidays, playing with makeshift gym equipment outside.
Reiroa Tiakiwai and Te Mana Maui were packing up horses to go on a week-long hunting trip in the Te Urewera ranges.
Any venison and pig they brought back would be shared among the residents for family dinners, with the agreement that whoever goes hunting next does the same.
Others were rounding up cattle.
Tiakiwai's father Puni Tiakiwai had put a horse out of its misery. It had been suffering with a broken leg.
He thinks the new village is a great idea.
"There's a lot of people living in the area who can't afford a day off. It might help them. Hopefully it does go through.
"The only way you are going to get along with villages like this is, think family. "