Tūhoe kaumātua says some of community not consulted on removal of Te Urewera DOC huts

7:00 pm on 27 October 2022
One of the Department of Conservation back country huts in Te Urewera given historic status within the department, Waiotukapiti Hut, is a rare totara-slab hut built in the 1950s by the Department of Internal Affairs as a base for deer cullers.

One of the Department of Conservation back country huts in Te Urewera given historic status within the department, Waiotukapiti Hut Photo: Supplied / Pete Shaw

A Tūhoe kaumātua is warning of further demonstrations after about 200 people gathered to protest the demolition of back country huts in Te Urewera.

The Tūhoe settlement entity, Te Uru Taumatua, plans to dismantle 48 huts which it says are derelict, though it said many would be replaced, and until then, some temporary shelters would be put in place.

The plan has galvanised discontent among some hapū against Te Uru Taumatua, with some Tūhoe joining others to protest the demolition plan on Wednesday.

Te Kaunihera Kaumatua o Tūhoe, Paki Nikora, of Ngāti Rongo, said part of the community was hurt because they were not consulted on the details.

"It wasn't just us as Tūhoe who were hurt, it was really the wider New Zealand public if you can see all the faces that are in there. It's not just going to stop here. How do you actually turn out and ratify something without getting proof that it has been supported by the wider membership," Nikora said.

"It's not only significant to our people, but it's also significant to all the trampers and hunters that frequented in the Urewera through all those many many years... Many of those people that weren't actually Tūhoe but were totally devastated with this action."

Te Uru Taumatua defended its plans in a statement and said the wider public had been misinformed and many protesters left in agreement with its plan after a series of talks in Tāneatua yesterday.

"Protesters willing to listen, let their guard down, saw moments of agreement and understanding. Their anxiety eased, [they were] assured of access and [that] Tūhoe structures will go up. A lot of the protesters left a bit embarrassed after Tribals shared wider context."

Te Uru Taumatua claimed the huts were worn, leaking and rat-infested, and said there were plans to replace them with more bespoke structures.

"Whānau and hapū are clear on the vision ki te hoki ki Te Urewera. Decommissioning is but a moment in time. The redesign of Te Urewera by its people is forever. Tūhoe assembled together, collective in our response to the planned protest of individualism."

Fifteen huts have so far been demolished with plans to remove another 33 by December.

Te Uru Taumatua chair Tāmati Kruger told Checkpoint the project could take two to three years, which would allow for good consultation and design for the new huts, and a job done right.

Tamati Kruger says Mana Motuhake is about solving your own issues.

Tāmati Kruger Photo: Supplied

"But we are able to put in temporary shelters... that we can put in there in the next few months."

The temporary shelters would be installed by Christmas, and would be available to those who needed them, he said, but people should come to the area open-minded to the idea of camping.

"[At Christmas] around Lake Waikaremoana all the huts except one will still be available and will be in use all through this summer.

"We're going to be asking people, 'hey, bring your tent, sleep under the stars, sleep under the trees, get a whole experience of camping and going out into nature'."

Hunters' and hikers' complaints that removing huts from Te Urewera was "ripping the heart and soul" from the area was "rubbish", Kruger said.

"People are the heart and soul of Te Urewera. Te Urewera has its own heart and soul, not a hut or a shed or a toilet."

Kruger told Checkpoint it was not ideal to keep maintaining old and failing huts, and it was exciting to be replacing them with brand new facilities that would be much better, and a "cultural experience closer to Te Urewera".

"We can do a quick job, but we'd rather do a good job.

"... I think to suggest that we continue to run Te Urewera with museum-type shelters and huts that becomes a memorial to what used to be in the 1950s and 1960s is really not tenable, we should be all excited with what follows decomissioning, which is a brand new place, a cultural experience, closer to Te Urewera, with brand new facilities.

The new huts and accommodation would open up new opportunities for visitors and Tūhoe, he said.

"At the moment you yourself can bring all of your friends and go and walk around all of Te Urewera without meeting one single Tūhoe person - that is not a cultural experience - that's a walk.

"So the cultural experience would be that in the future Tūhoe people will be hosting the vistors - can host visitors who wish to have contact and friendship and relationship with Tūhoe people, and get to know their daily life - where they go, what they do, what they eat, what they're observing, and how they commune with Te Urewera - and so that to me is more authentic."

Kruger said hunters, hikers and visitors who wanted to travel independently without making contact would still be welcome in Te Urewera.

"We will be caring for their health and safety and we would like to be able to usher them and advise them what would be the right places to go to, and how to go about Te Urewera - but they're most welcome to do that."

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