Ngāti Maniapoto describes apology by the Crown as a fresh start for relations

11:57 am on 5 December 2022
Hongi for PM Jacinda Ardern at Crown apology to Ngāti Maniapoto

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at the Crown apology to Ngāti Maniapoto on Sunday Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi

Ngāti Maniapoto has described an apology by the Crown as a fresh start for relations.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern travelled to Te Rohe Pōtae, the King Country, to apologise for more than 150 years of treaty breaches, marking the final stage of a 30-year process to reach settlement.

As the bright December sun shone down on Te Kuiti, more than 1000 gathered on Sunday as a thundering haka pōwhiri welcomed the visiting delegation. Leaning on their tokotoko, faces shaded by wide-brimmed hats, some of the elders shed a tear as Jacinda Ardern delivered the words many had waited generations to hear.

"The Crown delivers this long overdue apology," Ardern said from the mahau (porch) of Te Tokanganui-a-Noho.

"The Crown takes responsibility for the pain and hurt it has caused. And it makes commitments to you, which we will uphold."

While the settlement had been reached last year, Ngāti Maniapoto wanted the Crown to front its people on Te Rohe Potae, to apologise for actions including "indiscriminate" killings and the "massive" alienation of its land.

PM makes apology to Ngāti Maniapoto on behalf of Crown at Te Kuiti

Around 3000 people gathered at Te Kuiti Pā to hear the Crown's apology. Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi

In the deed of settlement negotiated by both National and Labour governments, the Crown acknowledged it indiscriminately killed women and children during the Waikato wars. It also acknowledged it looted and destroyed Māori property for no reason.

It said Ngāti Maniapoto had suffered for too long from "inadequate healthcare, housing and education, as well as reduced employment opportunities" because of Crown policies.

To reach this point involved more than three decades of negotiations that had many back-and-forths, including a recent Waitangi Tribunal inquiry into just who had the mandate to negotiate.

"The Crown profoundly regrets its horrific and needless acts of war and raupatu [confiscation] which has caused you and your hapū intergenerational suffering," Ardern said on Sunday.

"Instead of respecting your mana whakahaere, the Crown killed and injured your people and pillaged your land and property."

Ngāti Maniapoto historian and kaumātua professor Tom Roa said the apology had been a long time coming, and there were an array of emotions: joy that it had finally come, sadness for those who had fought but died too soon, and despair that the actions happened at all.

Prime minister has apologised to Ngāti Maniapoto on behalf of Crown  at a gathering in Te Kuiti

Jacinda Ardern said the Crown took responsibility for the pain and hurt it had caused. Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi

Maniapoto rangatira had travelled to Port Waikato in 1840 to sign the Treaty of Waitangi, he said, expecting a new dawn of friendship. Initially, that's what happened, with Maniapoto maintaining a thriving economy and trade industry, selling to settlers on the coast.

But 20 years later, the Crown came marching inland.

"That friendship disappeared. Actually, destroyed," he said.

In the Waikato Wars, as battles raged and people fled, thousands sought shelter with Maniapoto. As the confiscation line was set at the Puniu River (today marked by a moss-covered yellow sign fixed to the bridge south of Te Awamutu), Te Rohe Potae became a refuge for the Kiingitanga - the origin of the King Country.

The region held out as a self-governing rohe, but the Crown persisted by other means, utilising the Native Land Court and other methods to buy up land or to divide hapū. As it pushed through the main trunk railway, it opened swathes of land for settlers - against agreements it made with Maniapoto.

"Tragic circumstances in our history," is how Tom Roa described the sequence of events.

"[But] if we deal with them properly - as we will today - tomorrow will be much better for our children, our grandchildren, both of the Māori world and the other worlds that use this space."

And that was the great hope on Sunday, Roa said. That a new chapter was about to begin, forging a future while not forgetting - or, as is often the case, misremembering or mythologising the past.

Prime minister has apologised to Ngāti Maniapoto on behalf of Crown  at a gathering in Te Kuiti

One of the children attending the ceremony in Te Kuiti. Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi

The apology was delivered from the mahau of Te Tokanganui-a-Noho. Built by Te Kooti and with a unique orange maihi, it opened 150 years ago this weekend. The gazing eyes of its tekoteko have seen it all.

Beneath it have passed the flood of refugees from war, it has stood by as the rolling hills surrounding it were lost; it has been relocated to make way for the railway that cut through Te Rohe Potae.

It has borne witness to the destitution wrought by colonisation, but also served as a source of unity and faith for Maniapoto, where its kōrero and waiata were kept alive. And now, it has seen an apology.

From the paepae, rangatira welcomed with hope, but also reservation. Promises have been made to Maniapoto by the Crown before. They have invariably been broken.

That's something Roa, and the chair of post-settlement entity Te Nehenehenui, Bella Takiari-Brame, said future generations would not allow to happen.

As well as the apology, the settlement package includes $165 million in financial redress, the transfer of 36 sites back to Maniapoto and a range of other cultural redress to Te Nehehenui, the name bestowed by tūpuna when they first laid eyes on the once bountiful forest that covered these now-bald hills.

It is also the name given to a kawenata signed in 1903 to unite Maniapoto in the face of Crown pressure. It is now the name given to take Maniapoto into the future.

"I wouldn't say [the apology] would be enough to address all the inequities and the hara and the hurt that we've experienced in the last 150 years but it will be the beginning," Takiari-Brame said.

"It's the beginning of a new partnership with the Crown."

Already, Crown agencies have been visiting Te Kuiti to work out new ways of partnership, possible new ways of doing things.

Takiari-Brame said it was time for Maniapoto to restore its mana motuhake, bring its reo back, close disparities, and to build a future.