Patience and generosity mark Tuhoe settlement


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The Tuhoe settlement signed yesterday is the best deal the current generation of Tuhoe leaders has been able to negotiate with the Crown for the 170 years of harsh colonial oppression and dispossession suffered by Tuhoe. Despite never having signed the Treaty they were subject to the same brutality visited by the Crown on other tribes – especially those like Tuhoe who resisted the theft of their lands.

From the government’s comments yesterday the feeling was more of relief that a deal had been reached as opposed to celebration of its contents. Most Tuhoe seem to feel similarly but I’ve spoken with some who are very unhappy and for now have their hands tied by the tribal leadership and the government.

It’s important to keep this all in perspective by recognizing that even with the Tuhoe settlement added, the TOTAL amount spent by the government on ALL treaty settlements so far is still less than the amount John Key’s cabinet spent bailing out the wealthy investors in South Canterbury Finance.

And also important to recognize that like other treaty settlements the compensation payments amount to less than 1% of what was stolen.

The settlement then is a tribute more to the patience and generosity of Tuhoe than any largesse of the Crown.

A final point is worth making. These settlements are all signed as “full and final settlements” but just as the John Key government can’t lock in future government support for the Skycity convention-centre-for-pokies deal, neither the current government nor Tuhoe leaders can demand that future generations do not revisit these issues. That is their right.

In the week following the Urewera raids I wrote the following for a Christchurch Press column which was published on 22 October 2007. I think it’s still relevant today.

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Twelve years ago I was one of four teachers taking a group of 30 secondary school students on a five-day tramp through the heart of Tuhoe land in the Urewera National Park.

The tramp was from Ruatahuna to Ruatoki following the Whakatane River.

We arrived by bus late one afternoon and were met by a local Tuhoe family who had agreed to carry some of our bulkier food supplies on horseback and drop them off in the first couple of huts along the way.

It was after dark when we reached the first hut and we didn’t appreciate the rugged splendour of the area till we got moving the following morning.

Much of the land had been stripped of large trees in earlier times but now the unhurried but steady growth of native vegetation is slowly returning the land to its former glory. In 200 years it will be stunning.

Like any long tramp it was challenging and rewarding. The locals on horseback waded the river back and forth while we tramped along the side of gorges, across open scrubland and through densely-canopied forest. We bunked in huts, slept in tents and washed in the river. Every few minutes of every day brought new sights and new highlights.

The carrying of food on horseback was a mixed success. I remember a couple of huge plastic bags of oranges reduced to slush after a couple of days bouncing across the saddle of a pack horse in rugged country. More effective than a lemon squeezer.

We treated lots of blisters, smelled lots of interesting smells and tasted some dreadful food offerings from 14-year-olds experimenting in groups. We met plenty of hunters carrying pig and deer carcases out on horseback and were excited to find a glow-worm grotto just a few yards from the last hut.
The river itself shifts from gorge to gorge initially but on the last couple of days opens out onto a wide river flat as it nears the Bay of Plenty coast.

We were very lucky to have fine weather till the last morning when the rain and mist closed in. Tuhoe are called “children of the mist” for good reason.

We were worn out but exhilarated by the time we straggled to the road-end. A bus met us and drove us to a marae in Ruatoki where we’d arranged to stay. I’d known Tuhoe activist Tame Iti for many years and asked one of the locals if he was around. Yes and he lives just a couple of houses away over the fence I was told. And as luck would have it he was at home. I called him up and he came over.

Later when everyone was settling down for the night in the wharenui Tame talked to the kids about the history of the area; how Tuhoe has never ceded sovereignty over their land to anyone; how they had never signed the Treaty of Waitangi; how a great deal of their best land had been confiscated by the government. He talked about Rua Kenana and the settlement at Maungapohatu (the sacred mountain of Tuhoe) which was raided by 70 armed police during the First World War.

They killed two and arrested Rua for speaking out against the war. He’d argued against Maori fighting for a pakeha king and country while the same king had stripped land from Tuhoe just a few decades before. Tame explained what was involved with the most recent local issues. A forestry block here, some sacred burial sites there, building self belief in the young.

It was a rare privilege for these mainly pakeha teenagers to hear first hand from such a living legend of Tuhoe as Tame Iti.

It was the kind of history lesson we’d never had at school and I can’t help thinking New Zealand would be a very different country today if we’d learnt history from a Maori perspective alongside the pakeha perspective we were taught.

I don’t think most of us have anything but a superficial appreciation of the depth of hurt, anger and alienation felt so keenly by Maori in Tuhoe and elsewhere.

A Maori acquaintance said to me that Pakeha move ahead with their history behind them but Maori move ahead with their history in front of them. This was not meant to say Maori were always looking backwards but that when they move into the future their past is an integral part of who they are.

It was a privilege for us to be in the Urewera but it was not a right. That right belongs to Tuhoe and we were their guests.

Anyone driving along roads in the area and finding signs declaring “Tuhoe Nation – Keep out!” should delight that the spirit of resistance of these New Zealanders is alive and strong.

And they should stop in respect and ask politely for permission to proceed.


  1. Thank you, John. A thoughtful, insightful piece.

    And I understand fully what you mean by,

    “A Maori acquaintance said to me that Pakeha move ahead with their history behind them but Maori move ahead with their history in front of them. This was not meant to say Maori were always looking backwards but that when they move into the future their past is an integral part of who they are.”

    A pakeha version of that might be;

    “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it” – George Santayana

    My best wishes are with the Tuhoe people and their nation…

  2. Thanks John for this touching piece. I’m reminded of one of the slogans of Palestinian solidarity groups, “Peace the flower, justice the seed”. In 2007 the NZ State attacked Tūhoe on their sovereign land, justifying themselves by the accusation that Tūhoe may have been planning to do something they have every right to do, both morally and under international law: use force to repel an invasion of their sovereign land.

    Perhaps Tūhoe should thank their lucky stars that the armed invasion of their land to “prevent terrorism” was not as savage as the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq on the same pretext. Or perhaps the NZ State should thank its lucky stars that Tūhoe have chosen to respond peacefully, using legal defence, negotiation, and public statements to fight for their autonomy, instead of deploying car bombs, booby traps, and AK47s in the geurilla-style war they were accused of preparing for.

    The IPCA report makes it clear who the real terrorists were on October 15, 2007. The same people who have since been given expanded powers under the Search and Surveillance Act, and use of the GCSB to spy on activist groups. The question for anyone who cares about freedom and democracy in this country is, what can we do about the fact that the fox is in charge of the henhouse?

    • At the very least, Labour can express their contrition by repealing the so-called Terrorism Suppression Act; the Search and Surveillance Act; and any increase in powers givcen to the GCSB.

      It’s time to wind back the calendar, pre-1984.

  3. Sorry John, agree with 90% of your political positions, but this is in the 10% I don’t agree with.

    Quite frankly, had Tuhoe had their way, those kids you took into the Urerewa National Park would be pretty much locked out (unless they paid big bucks, or course). John Key was just this once right on refusing to hand this jewel in the conservation crown to Tuhoe. Our national parks must remain publicly owned for eternity, the only way NZers will have unfettered access to them for their enjoyment. This governance/ownership arrangement with its fig leaf of public access will not last. In 10 or 20 years the “keep out” signs will go up, just as they have with every square millimeter of conservation land and public reserve handed back to iwi.

    You go on and on and on about how evil privatisation is, but you have no problems with our rivers, lakes, mountains and national parks being handed over to private entities simply because they are brown.

    Shame on you John.

    Though, the self-governance sounds interesting, and I look forward to seeing how it will work — iwi go on about self governance and tino rangatiratanga, but there seems to no actual model of how it will work in a real world situation.

    • ‘In 10 or 20 years the “keep out” signs will go up, just as they have with every square millimeter of conservation land and public reserve handed back to iwi.’

      Please tell me where all of this is going on, I’ve been up to Bastion Point quite a few times and that is certainly not the case.

    • mmmm – did you see what happened with Aoraki / Mount Cook? Wait, that right – Ngāi Tahu owned it, had it nicked – took it back – then gave it back with the name changed. And look you can go their any time – even clime it if you pay the state it’s cut.

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