Waitangi Day dawn service set to be shifted

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John Cousins, 23rd July 2011 (Bay of Plenty Times) One of Tauranga’s most moving public events, the Waitangi Day dawn service on the summit of Mauao, looks almost certain to be shifted to another venue.

Shane Ashby, the chairman of the trust which represents the mountain’s tribal owners, said they would support the celebration being moved to another location close to Mauao.

The move comes soon after the trust and the committee charged with maintaining the iconic landmark rejected an idea to build a directional compass for tourists on the summit.

This time the issue centred on the hundreds of people that gather on the summit of the Western Bay iwi’s sacred mountain to celebrate the significance of Waitangi Day.

Mr Ashby said people caring for Mauao had reported that the ceremony was causing quite a lot of damage to the summit, and it would only increase as the numbers attending grew.

[sws_pullquote_right] Mauao is sacred and the summit extremely sacred. It is the view of the trust that anything that impacted negatively on the maunga should cease or be shifted.” [/sws_pullquote_right] He said that when the future of the dawn service formally came across their table, the trust would not be supporting its continuation on the summit. Trustees wanted the ceremony shifted to a more sustainable and environmentally friendly location.

Mr Ashby said it was a fantastic event and a beautiful ceremony and he was sure that kaumatua and the rest of the community would be saddened by the move, but it was about sustainability.

He believed kaumatua would support the shift.

The trust intended to work closely with the community to find an alternative location.

Asked whether the the trust might move to restrict public access to Mauao, he replied: “Absolutely not”.

Mr Ashby said Mauao was for everyone but it was also a tipuna (ancestor) that needed to be looked after, and the trust was working closely with the council to ensure the tracks were safe.

Provided there was no negative impact, the trust was not seeking to limit public access. It would work with the council and the Mauao steering group to ensure the tracks were up to standard to handle projected increases.

The Bay of Plenty Times Weekend was alerted to the issue by the minutes of the Mauao steering group’s June 9 meeting, which included a comment that discontinuing the service on Mauao could lead to an “adverse public reaction”.

A member of the joint council and iwi committee, Cr Larry Baldock, said there has been ongoing discussions between tangata whenua, and particularly the Mauao trustees, about whether the summit was an appropriate place for the service – given the growing numbers attending the event.

[sws_pullquote_left]It is a combination of a lot of things and we have got to look at it holistically and not put so much pressure on Mauao. [/sws_pullquote_left] Cr Baldock said the community had to respect the concerns of the owners. Continuing to hold the service on the summit could become impractical as the event grew in size, with growing numbers of elderly people needing to go up in four-wheel-drive vehicles. There were reasonable arguments for having a more accessible location for the service.

The Ngati Ranginui kaumatua who led the campaign to return Mauao to Maori ownership, Colin Bidois, said there was a bit of angst among Maori about the pressure on Mauao.

The Waitangi Day service was a part of a bigger picture and it was legitimate that Maori should be concerned, he said.

Mr Bidois said that although the increasing erosion on Mauao was more about changing weather patterns, another element was the more intensive foot traffic.