A spade driven into the ground in a Northland backblock marked the kind of partnership ancestors of three hapū only dreamed about when they signed the Treaty of Waitangi.
So said Ngāti Hine Forestry Trust chairman Pita Tīpene when the first tree of the Government's One Billion Trees programme was planted at Pukeatua, in remote Ngāti Hine forestry lands yesterday morning.
Up to 4 million trees will eventually be planted on 400 hectares owned by the trust partners, Ngāti Hine, Ngāti Rangi and Ngāti Kawa.
The Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) overseen by Economic Development Minister Shane Jones has seeded the joint venture with $6 million.
''It establishes the kind of partnership our tūpuna must have imagined 178 years ago when they signed the original accord with the Crown,'' Tīpene said.
The first joint venture commercial forestry deal between the trust and the Government will form an alliance that will outlast today's participants, he said.
After more than 40 years of passively looking on as others made off with the lion's share of revenue from trees grown on iwi land, today's shareholders will reap the benefits, Tīpene said.
"At last we can give our shareholders an assurance that they will be winners this time around.''
There are about 4000 shareholders, or joint owners of the land.
Tipene said the current ''main players'' would be long gone when these trees deliver on a vision that "we enjoy good health, are prosperous, self-sufficient and our assets are productive and sustainably utilised''.
Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters and Jones were present at the ceremonial planting in the crisp early morning.
The significance of the accord is that the Ngāti Hine Forestry Trust will have secured a durable partner for the rest of this century, Jones said.
There were schemes in place and opportunities arising to run associated employment training schemes in Northland, he said.
"This will be a boost to the local economy and will provide employment opportunities and better social outcomes for the whole region.
"We'll plant 500,000 pine trees this year, with a further 2 million planted over the next three years.''
The Ngāti Hine forest would be pine and mānuka, Jones said. The pines would feed the future timber industry and the mānuka would feed the growing honey industry.
''It ticks all the biodiversity boxes. The pines will be planted well away from the waterways. The creeks will enjoy wide mānuka riparian plantings.''
The significance of the accord was that the Ngāti Hine Forestry Trust had secured a durable partner for the rest of this century, he said.
"That was something we were struggling to do a year ago,'' Tīpene said of Ngāti Hine's uncertain forestry future at that time.
"It's surprising how many friends you soon find when opportunity knocks on your door".