(by Whare Akuhata)
Motiti tribe Te Patuwai are preparing for the battle of their lives. They are one of several groups who have objected to the resource consent lodged by the owners of the Rena shipwreck to leave part of the ship and other debris on Astrolabe Reef (Otaiti) located 7km from Motiti Island.
Chairman of Te Patuwai Tribal Committee Kereama Akuhata said the tribe, the tangata whenua of Motiti Island, has suffered the most of all people from the Rena shipwreck, New Zealand’s worst maritime environmental disaster.
The application hearing commenced today in Mt Maunganui.
The owners offered Māori groups from around the Bay of Plenty varying amounts of money to withdraw their submissions and for other reasons. Some took the money including Te Arawa Ki Tai and Ngāti Ranginui.
Mr Akuhata said Te Patuwai rejected an offer of $750,000.
Importantly Mr Akuhata said they were not only facing a battle against the Rena owners but other iwi groups and members from their own hapu.
He said Te Patuwai are particularly offended by Te Arawa Ki Tai who have made claims they are the kaitiaki of Otaiti. He flatly rejected this.
“We are the tangata whenua of Motiti Island and hold the mana moana (recognized Māori authority) of Otaiti. It has sustained our people for hundreds of years – culturally, physically and spiritually. Our tupuna fished and gathered kai here.”
“My father fished here as a boy and heard the old karakia being uttered. His brothers, uncles, aunties, cousins and relations fished here – we still tell those stories of our best divers and fishermen/women who frequented this place.”
“Simply put this wahi tapu belongs to us. Te Arawa claiming they are kaitiaki is like us going to Whakarewarewa and claiming we’re entitled to go penny diving.”
Mr Akuhata is particularly upset about the fact the issue has divided the hapu.
“There are a number of other groups that claim to speak on the tribe’s behalf. These include the group who call themselves Korowai Kahui o Nga Pakeke o Te Patuwai and Motiti Rohe Moana Trust. The Te Patuwai Tribal Committee is the mandated body that speaks for the tribe.
Mr Akuhata is encouraged by the fact Te Whanau a Tauwhao who can also claim to be tangata whenua of Motiti Island, are also objecting to the submission.
“I’m also of Te Whanau a Tauwhao descent so it’s great to know they also want the Rena removed. We’re also thankful for the support of Te Runanga o Ngati Awa.”
Mr Akuhata does not dispute the fact that traditionally many others enjoyed customary rights to the fisheries around Motiti.
“There are a number of tribes who have a right to speak on the resources of the reef but it is Te Patuwai who holds the mana moana of Otaiti.”
“Our objectives are simple. We want the removal of the Rena from Otaiti in its entirety and compensation for damage incurred. We believe there are still toxic substances left in the wreckage and this will impact on not only the present but future generations of Te Patuwai. We believe the mauri of the reef has been seriously affected and the restoration of that mauri cannot take place until the wreck is off Otaiti.”
Te Patuwai is a hapū of Ngāti Awa and is also located at Whakatane. There are three marae, two on Motiti Island (Tamateakitehuatahi and Tahingaotera) and one at Whakatane (Pupuaruhe). They are the ahi kā (custodians) and hold the mana whenua (recognized Māori authority) of Otaiti as well as other reefs, fishing grounds, birding areas surrounding Motiti. They have strong connections to both Te Arawa and the Mataatua confederation of tribes.
Te Patuwai have lived on Motiti for hundreds of years. Their ancestor Te Hapu and his people settled the area through conquest and marriage. Te Whanau a Tauwhao is another tribe that is connected to Motiti Island. They are now mainly based on Matakana Island, Mayor Island and at Bowentown. Many Te Patuwai people also belong to Te Whanau a Tauwhao.
Te Patuwai Tribal Committee is the mandated body and it speaks for the tribe. Each of the marae have committees that take care of the running of the marae. Te Patuwai have two delegates on Te Runanga o Ngati Awa (representing Ngati Maumoana and Te Patuwai). They have 1386 members registered with the Ngati Awa runanga.