Thirty million dollars, the return of important sites and the spelling of Whanganui are important - but a new relationship with government and councils is the top goal for those negotiating claims on the lower Whanganui River.

Relationships were the main theme as an agreement in principle was signed between the Whanganui Land Settlement Negotiation Trust (WLSNT), the people it represents and Treaty Negotiations Minister Andrew Little at Putiki Marae on August 30.

The agreement in principle outlines the overall shape of the redress offered by the Crown - with final details still to be decided before a deed of settlement can be signed.

The broad outline is $30 million in financial redress, potential vesting of 22 properties, a partnership with government over the Dublin St UCOL property, acknowledgement of 13 conservation sites and deeds of recognition to six more conservation sites, and legislation saying "Whanganui" is the only correct way to spell the name of the town.

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But it will be a reset of relationships that will make the most difference. One advance could be a partnership between government, council and Iwi to solve social and economic problems - something Tracey Waitokia has been working on.

"We know what the challenges are and we want to work with agencies and council to find our own solutions," Waitokia said.

The signing was at Putiki Marae rather than in Wellington so Whanganui people could be there. Present were MPs Adrian Rurawhe and Harete Hipango, and mayors Don Cameron and Hamish McDouall.

Turama Hawira welcomed the visitors in the short pōwhiri and Tamahau Rowe was the master of ceremonies. Children from Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Atihaunui a Paparangi and Te Kura o Kokohuia were present and sang.

Whanganui Land Settlement Negotiation Trust chairman Ken Mair speaks, before an agreement in principle on lower Whanganui River land claims is signed. Photo / Laurel Stowell
Whanganui Land Settlement Negotiation Trust chairman Ken Mair speaks, before an agreement in principle on lower Whanganui River land claims is signed. Photo / Laurel Stowell

Two years of "robust" negotiation have led up to this, WLSNT chairman Ken Mair said, and there is more to come. But proceeding with the settlement based on values of integrity, authority and sustenance would allow it to properly care for its people and land.

"Moving forward we have a positive choice to take us into the future, upholding these values. We shouldn't forget this, because they have been handed down to us."

Mair hoped the reset relationships would also be with councils and decisions would be made at a local level.

"We also want to acknowledge our name. There is no alternative name to Whanganui with an 'H'. We are correcting a wrong of 160-odd years," he said.

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Treaty Negotiations Minister Andrew Little addresses the crowd at Putiki Marae. Photo / Laurel Stowell
Treaty Negotiations Minister Andrew Little addresses the crowd at Putiki Marae. Photo / Laurel Stowell

Treaty Negotiations Minister Andrew Little said the Crown was not honest about how much land it acquired in its purchase and it had drawn Whanganui Iwi into its wars, where they reluctantly took up arms against their whanaunga (relations).

It was time for the Crown to take responsibility for all the resulting harm, he said.

"We look forward together to learn and build a stronger and fairer future."

Flags fly above Putiki Marae on an important day. Photo / Laurel Stowell
Flags fly above Putiki Marae on an important day. Photo / Laurel Stowell

Those involved with the negotiations said this day has been a long time coming. Ken Clarke began research toward it in 2002, and for Putiki Marae chairman Hone Tamehana it began formally in 2003.

"It's an exciting day, but we are still in our early days. The door is slightly ajar, but not yet fully open," he said.

The settlement must provide a better future for the children present, he said, who would also have to face up to climate change.

"If we can resolve this for them, it's one less thing."

He agreed that better relationships are the most important change needed.

"We are going to be in this town for a while. Those relationships are what we really want to change."