2 Dec 2022

Whakatōhea votes to accept $100m Treaty settlement

3:44 pm on 2 December 2022
Waiotahe beach in Ōpōtiki, Eastern Bay of Plenty.

Whakatōhea is an Eastern Bay of Plenty iwi, centred in Ōpōtiki (pictured is Waiotahe beach). Photo: 123RF / Julie Schleifer

Members of Whakatōhea have voted to accept the Crown's $100 million settlement offer, marking an end to nearly 30 years of negotiation.

The Eastern Bay of Plenty iwi's treaty settlement has been one of the longest running and most contentious, with an initial $40m offer rejected in 1996.

This time, the Crown has offered $100m, 5000ha of marine space, and the return of 6000ha of land, as well as cultural and commercial redress.

A six-week election process ended last month, with the results announced on Friday. Sixty seven percent of Whakatōhea members have voted to accept the offer.

"We are pleased with the results, this is a great outcome for Whakatōhea. It has been a long journey from the first petition to the Crown in 1887, to now being at the point of settling our historical claims, most significantly the invasion and raupatu of our land 135 years ago," Whakatōhea Pre-Settlement Claims Trust chair Graeme Riesterer, said.

"It has also been 30 years since we first started settlement negotiations with the Crown, and we are reminded of the contributions of many of our pakeke and kaumātua that are no longer with us."

Whakatōhea Pre-Settlement Claims Trust chairman Graeme Riesterer.

Whakatōhea Pre-Settlement Claims Trust chair Graeme Riesterer Photo: Supplied/LDR

A settlement proposed by the Crown in the 1990s was rejected by Whakatōhea, who had significant concerns about whether it was sufficient. That offer was terminated in 1998.

The process then languished for a decade after, with the Waitangi Tribunal writing that the process left a legacy of division among hapū, before starting again in the late 2000s.

But those talks have been marred by opposition, with some hapū disputing its mandate and taking claims to the Waitangi Tribunal as well as directly to Treaty Settlements Minister Andrew Little.

In recent months, one hapū, Te Ūpokorehe, started a petition seeking to leave the mandate, objecting to being included in the wider Whakatōhea settlement.

Right through the ratification elections, some hapū and members of Whakatōhea were opposed to accepting the Crown's offer, holding their own hui.

When broken down by hapū, the results released on Friday showed the majority of Ngāti Ira voted kao (no), with 270 votes to 202. Te Ūpokorehe was split down the middle, with 221 voting āe and 220 voting kao.

But on Friday, the majority of Whakatōhea voted to push on with the settlement.

"The Settlement process itself is a challenging one and although we will continue moving forward there is a lot of hara and mamae to address from both the raupatu and the settlement process itself," chair of the Whakatōhea Māori Trust Board, Robert Edwards, said.

"Regardless of this result we are still Te Whakatōhea and it is important that we work together and forge a pathway forward as a united Iwi, that is what matters."

Some of the Crown's most heinous acts were inflicted on Whakatōhea, including scorched earth warfare, brazen raupatu, and the country's only cavalry charge at Te Tarata.

The most severe was the invasion and ransacking which followed the killing of missionary Carl Völkner in 1865, which the Crown held Whakatōhea responsible for - an allegation that turned out to be false.

The government declared martial law across the Eastern Bay of Plenty, a decision which the attorney general at the time described as having "no place in the constitution of this country".

But that did not deter the Crown from declaring Whakatōhea rebels and sending in an invasion force of hundreds to embark on a scorched earth policy of killing, looting and ransacking. Crops were destroyed, taonga taken, and homes and marae burned. Whakatōhea dead were buried in mass graves.

A year later, the government confiscated 144,000ha across the Ōpōtiki district, forcing hapū onto poorly-resourced reserves and fuelling intra-iwi conflict.

The Waitangi Tribunal last year described the Crown's actions around Ōpōtiki as "among the worst Treaty breaches in this country's history".

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