Wai 894: Te Urewera, Pre-publication Part III Released

The Waitangi Tribunal today (22 October 2012) released in pre-publication format the third part of its report on claims in the Te Urewera district inquiry.

In this part of its report, entitled From Self-governing Native Reserve to National Park, the Tribunal looks at the origins of Te Urewera National Park, created in 1954 and greatly extended in 1957. An uncomfortable history, the Tribunal says, lies behind the creation of the park.

The origins of the park lie in the Crown's broken promises to the peoples of Te Urewera. In 1896, it had passed special legislation, the Urewera District Native Reserve Act, to establish a self governing native reserve for Tūhoe. Tūhoe and Ngāti Whare leaders had negotiated with Premier Richard Seddon in the hope of a new beginning in their relationship with the Crown. But their hopes were shattered.

The Crown failed to deliver on its promise to ensure that strong committees were set up to run tribal affairs. It failed to deliver on its undertaking to buy land only from the tribal body and instead conducted a predatory, and at times illegal, purchasing campaign that targeted individuals living in poverty.

The Tribunal found that the alienation of 75 per cent of the Urewera Native Reserve mainly through ruthless Crown purchasing, on top of earlier extensive land loss in the rest of Te Urewera, was in breach of the Treaty, and caused significant prejudice to the peoples of Te Urewera. In the 1920s, the Crown acquired even more land from Māori owners to pay for needless surveys, since the people never got the titles they were promised, and for arterial roads (to service their scattered settlements), which were never finished.

Tūhoe cannot get past these facts, the Tribunal said, while other New Zealanders are simply unaware of them.

The Tribunal found that the creation of Te Urewera National Park gave a unique opportunity. No other national park was designed to enclose significant Māori communities and Māori land within its borders or buffer zone. But the needs of those communities – ongoing customary use of the resources of the area and ongoing economic benefit from their much reduced remaining lands, so that they might survive – were utterly contradicted by the Crown's land to create a national park.

Tūhoe were not opposed to a park, and protection of the forests, but they wanted to remain on their last lands in the heart of Te Urewera.

A park in itself did not breach the Treaty, the Tribunal found. The national interests and the interests of Māori in their ancestral lands could both have been provided for. The Crown tried briefly to assist Tūhoe to mill some timber on their lands, but from the 1960s it denied Māori owners the use of their forests. For two decades, it tried to secure the surrender of all Māori land in or adjacent to the park. It failed, but it greatly limited what Tūhoe could do with their own lands. By the 1980s, all Tūhoe lands had become 'virtual national park'.

For the peoples of Te Urewera, especially Tūhoe, the national park has come to symbolise their dispossession. The Tribunal's findings vindicate the claimants' long-held grievance over the defeat of their aspirations for self-government in their own reserve and the loss of their ancestral lands.

Title-return and joint management arrangements have been carried out successfully for national parks in Australia and could also be carried out in New Zealand. 'We can think of no more appropriate situation', the Tribunal said, 'than that of Te Urewera National Park'.

Te Urewera Report (Part III) [PDF, 6.7 MB]

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