The final steps of an historic process to hand back ownership of Te Puia to local iwi has been signed off today in Rotorua.
During a ceremony held at Rotowhio Marae at Te Puia, the Crown, represented by Maori Development Minister Te Ururoa Flavell, signed a vesting agreement that will lead to the iconic Te Puia New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute business being vested into Wahiao Tuhourangi o Whakarewarewa and Ngati Whakaue interests.
Whakarewarewa Joint Trust (WJT) chairman Malcolm Short said the agreement was significant and unique in a number of ways but the final handover process would take at least another year to complete.
"The Te Puia vesting is a unique arrangement between us and the Crown which is based on our historical association and involvement with the Te Puia business.
"It also looks to forge and foster a better future relationship with the Crown."
However, Mr Short said the vesting did not settle any outstanding Treaty of Waitangi claims, which was also unique.
The signing follows a postal vote run by Election Services NZ in June and July.
Mr Short said the vesting was supported by a vast majority of the more than 2000 people who chose to have their say in the process.
"The support received through the postal vote was not a close thing," Mr Short said.
"It was overwhelmingly in favour.
"Both Pukeroa Oruawhata Trust and Wahiao Tuhourangi support was over 90 per cent and the three Ngati Whakaue hapu of Ngati Hurungaterangi, Ngati Taeotu and Ngati Kahu was over 76 per cent.
"The WJT role in the Te Puia business was to enable negotiations to occur for the purpose of vesting in a new entity, essentially ended when we signed the agreement today.
"From here the vesting process will be run by Te Puia NZMACI Management Limited, the management arm of the new future owner the Te Puia NZMACI Limited Partnership."
HTK Te Puia trustee, Bryce Murray, acknowledged the "hard work and determination of those who had toiled away over the decades to bring the people to this point".
He said the agreement was a big step towards developing some tangible benefits for hapu members in the here and now as well as building a better tomorrow for our future generations.
Mr Murray, an interim director on Te Puia NZMACI Management Limited, said he was positive about the future and was looking forward to the prospects of working with fellow co-directors David Tapsell, Peter Allport and Donna Hall.
"Our key role at this stage will be to have the Vesting Bill drafted, introduced into Parliament and see it passed. That should take about 12 months.
"Once we get closer to the vesting date we will also initiate an ownership transition programme which will include us looking for four additional directors to form the new governance board," he said.
"Te Puia has an excellent reputation and is very well run and that will continue. The cultural and tourism functions that the Te Puia business performs will continue and be enhanced with us as owners. The vesting will not change that."
Mr Flavell said the signing was an important step to strengthen the Crown's relationship with Wahiao Tuhourangi and Ngati Whakaue.
"The iwi have been instrumental in the operation and success of Te Puia and the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute, supporting the retention and development of ahurea and toi Maori, as well as providing training in whakairo and raranga," Mr Flavell said.
Mr Flavell said the vesting agreement also ensured the pan-iwi cultural functions provided by the Institute in training the next generation of carvers, weavers and sculptors would continue.
Te Puia chairman Harry Burkhardt said it would be business as usual at the site.
"It is good to see this process progressing, and we look forward to continuing to be involved with any discussions relevant to Te Puia," he said.
"In the meantime, we will continue to focus on running the business effectively and efficiently, fulfilling our legislative mandate and ensuring it is in the best position possible for the new owners once the process is complete.
"Part of that is managing our $22 million site developments, which are progressing well.
"The Wananga Precinct and Wharekai (restaurant and function facilities) are critical in order to better service both the needs of manuhiri (visitors), and our tutors and students in NZMACI as part of our mandate to protect and perpetuate Maori arts and craft.
"Both developments are being carried out without incurring any debt for the organisation, by utilising existing cash reserves, cashflows and a Government tourism development grant."