The Dominion Post 29-03-2014,
By Caleb Harris
The last remnant of what was once a mighty forest stretching from north of Dannevirke to Masterton will change hands as part of a Treaty settlement agreed on today.
The Rangitane iwi in the Wairarapa and Tamaki Nui-a-Rua (Tararua) regions signed an agreement in principle with the Crown today to settle historical Treaty of Waitangi claims.
Negotiator Jason Kerehi said it was the beginning of the end of “a long, hard road.”
“We had to really fight to present to the Crown an argument that Rangitane were here, that we were relevant and continue to be relevant.”
The agreement, the second-largest treaty settlement ever in terms of geographic area covered, includes compensation of $32.5 million, the transfer of seven Crown-owned sites of cultural significance, and the opportunity for Rangitane to buy crown-owned commercial land such as a Wairarapa pine forest and former school or hospital sites.
For the iwi, which currently has 4000 registered members, the most important cultural site is the Pukaha Mount Bruce National Wildlife Centre, a fragment of the 70 Mile Bush largely felled by European settlers.
Rangitane called it the Great Forest of Whatonga – the “grandfather” of the iwi – and will gift it back to the nation, said negotiator Jason Kerehi.
“We’re involved with Pukaha anyway and have been for decades, with advocacy for flora and fauna and education of children and visitors, and that work will continue.”
In the agreement the Crown acknowledges breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi, including land taken for public works, injustices in native land laws and crown purchasing, and loss of taonga (cultural treasures) and environment.
Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Minister Christopher Finlayson said the iwi was “virtually landless” today because of the breaches.
“As a result, since the nineteenth century, they have struggled to maintain their identity and connection with their own land and cultural traditions.”
The agreement built bridges between the Crown and the iwi, he said. “It will also assist the iwi to rebuild their economic base, cultural strength and identity.”
The next step is negotiations towards a detailed, draft deed of settlement. Registered members will vote to accept it or not. If they do, it will be signed and legislation introduced into Parliament to implement it, settling all historical claims for Rangitane within the Wairarapa and Tamaki Nui-a-Rua regions. That process will take a year or more, Mr Kerehi said.