Ruapehu iwi formalise role as guardians of the environment

7:50 pm on 9 March 2018

The ancestral lands of three Ruapehu iwi were once stripped from Māori by the Crown in 1865, but today the iwi have official oversight of their whenua.

New Zealand forest. A fern sits in the center of frame.

The new trust will help iwi members to leave an imprint on their environment. Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

The iwi of Uenuku, Tamakana and Tamahaki, whose ancestral lands stretch west and southwest from the mountains of the central plateau, are formalising their role as guardians of the environment with the launch of an environmental trust.

Lead treaty negotiator for the Uenuku Charitable Trust Chris McKenzie said the trust would allow iwi members to leave an imprint on their environment.

"The central tribes of Te Korowai o Wainuiārua have had a particular focus over very many decades on the biodiversity of their region and the environment and largely because of government policy we've been spectators.

"There's lots of work to be done around here including eradication of pests and the protection and preservation of our very diverse environment. We have big plans to develop an inland island so that we can bring back species which have suffered, like the hihi.

"We hope to continue our blue duck restoration and ensure we can protect kiwi."

The three iwi will meet with Treaty Negotiations Minister Andrew Little to progress settlement negotiations. The environmental trust is one of three subsidiary entities being established to enable social and cultural revitalisation, commercial development and environmental protection.

Mr McKenzie said the iwi-crown relationship was getting stronger.

"Prior to 1865 virtually no non-Māori lived in this area but almost immediately from 1865 onwards the land was completely stripped from us by native land courts and all the wonderful native timbers were milled to build towns around New Zealand.

"When the land regenerated and the crown found it was quite useless for anything, so later on they decided to transfer that land to national parks and conservation areas and that created quite a divergent relationship between the tribes and the Department of Conservation."

"But over the last 10 to 15 years we've enjoyed a much better relationship with DOC and share aspirations around restoration of taonga species - its been a remarkable turnaround."

Mr McKenzie hoped Mr Little would help solidify the iwi-crown relationship in terms of the protection of their lands.

"We want to impress upon him the work that we have done previously but we also want to impress upon him the ongoing relationship that we will need to have with DOC given that 60 percent of our tribal area is conservation area or reserves or national parks."