May 18, 2021

Maori News & Indigenous Views

Te Urewera – an Historical Account of how the Crown Stole Tuhoe Land

4 min read

One thing that becomes quite clear after PM John Key unceremoniously took ownership of Te Urewera off the table is how little he and many others know about what actually happened to Tuhoe over the last 150 years.

A number of articles have been written to help give details of the horrors suffered by Tuhoe at the hands of the governement, so we’d like to put together key points that may some day help the Government appreciate why Te Urewera must in fact be returned.

It’s a National Park and Should stay that way for the use of ALL New Zealanders

It would set a bad precedent:

FALSE – Mr Key’s key arguement for NOT returning the land rested on the issue of this creating a precedent (meaning other Iwi would seek similar deals). Several historians have made comment on this issue saying this is in fact FALSE. Several iwi have in fact been returned large tracts of land in their settlements.

Dr Paul Moon, a history professor at AUT, says there are several examples which contradict the government’s stance. He says in the early 1990s, the Crown vested almost 4,000 hectares of land, including Mt Hikurangi, to Ngati Porou to manage.

It’s a National Park and Should stay that way for the use of ALL New Zealanders:

FALSE – It only became a National Parkin 1954before this it had been deemed a Native Reserve!

Historian Bruce Stirling told the Weekend Herald the following:

  • the 1896 Urewera District Native Reserve Act (see pg 67) created a 265,000ha reserve
  • Part of this Act saw the Government pledging to leave what was left of Te Urewera as an “inviolate protectorate” (i.e. an area secure against violation) within Tuhoe, in other words an area which was in the control of Tuhoe. To manage this function a council, Te Whitu Tekau, was created to manage the affairs of Tuhoe.
    • This was 30 years after the Crown’s scorched-earth tactics, which left one in eight Tuhoe dead and devastated crops and homes.

It wasin 1896 that Liberal government of Richard Seddon passed a law giving the tribe a large degree of self-government or tribal authority over its area a measure that was “absolutely unique”, historian Judith Binney told the Sunday Star Times.

Premier Richard Seddon even invited a Tuhoe delegation to Wellington to forge a new contract where the iwi affirmed its acknowledgment of the Crown’s authority while the Government agreed to respect the tribe’s mana motuhake, or independent authority.

Ms Binney goes on to say that while Seddon had been sincere in granting a form of self-government to Tuhoe, this power was whittled away between 1909 and 1921.

In fact after Seddon’s death in 1906, the government moved further away from the concept of Tuhoe tribal authority, and by “awful pressure and brutality” had acquired about 330,000 acres of Tuhoe land by 1921.

The act was meant to work like this:

  • Tuhoe were to determine hapu ownership of land blocks and retain collective control through elected block committees who would manage it and protect it from sale.

What happened instead was:

  • The Crown undermined theAct
  • It wrongly told Tuhoe they were liable for the 7000 costs of “title determination”, and proposed land sales to clear this supposed debt.

In 1910, still unable to secure committee assent to land sales, the Crown began buying shares in blocks from individual owners. Some wished to sell to clear the improper 7000 debt … while many others were desperately impoverised” by floods and frosts which had led to famine.

The Crown, as the monopoly buyer, fixed low prices. Under the legislation this was illegal but the Government passed a law in 1916 to retrospectively validate its actions.

  • By 1921, the Crown had acquired 53 per cent of shares in the Urewera District Native Reserve
  • However, its shares were scattered – it didn’t have complete title to any block.

Rather than follow due process in the Native Land Court to identify and locate its shares, the Crown “imposed” the Urewera Consolidation Scheme on Tuhoe

  1. This enabled the Crown to consolidate its interests in the face of Tuhoe opposition.
  2. It also charged enormous survey costs and a special 20,000 fee towards building roads through Te Urewera.

No other New Zealanders have ever been asked to make such a contribution for rural highways,” Mr Stirling said.

… The roads were never built.

The government then went on to pass an act in 1916 “to retrospectively legalise all the purchases up till that point”. In 1958 the Urewera National Park was formed out of land that Tuhoe had owned in 1896.

Finally, the national park, now 212,673ha, was created in 1954.

* Most of the tribe’s best agricultural land was confiscated in the 1860s.
* The Crown used scorched-earth tactics, which devastated crops and killed one in eight people between 1867 and 1871.
* The tribe was supposed to keep what was left as a self-governing reserve created in 1896.
* However, it lost the land through a series of unjust and often illegal Government tactics over the next few decades.

3 thoughts on “Te Urewera – an Historical Account of how the Crown Stole Tuhoe Land

  1. Urewera step poll-driven


    Every once in a while a powerful person can have a rush of blood to the head and end up trying to stand against the tide of history.

    John Key's recent – and very public – intervention in Tuhoe's negotiations with the Crown over the Urewera homeland is a case in point.

    Not all Waitangi Tribunal claims which involve the return of disputed lands are straightforward, but this time Tuhoe have history, and right, on their side.

    The land they live on belongs to them: some was confiscated illegally in 1866, and has never been returned. Their right to self-rule was recognised by government minister Donald McLean in 1872 (as long as they stopped sheltering Te Kooti and his followers), and they were left in peace for almost 20 years.

    By 1894, Premier Richard Seddon was anxious to bring them "under the Queen's writ", and have the land surveyed – in pursuit of which, he agreed to set up a special reserve, where Tuhoe would enjoy the fruits of devolved self-rule as long as they allowed roads and surveys to proceed.

    "Your lands will never leave you," he promised, styling himself as a father to Tuhoe, one who would protect their interests.

    The Urewera District Native Reserve Act was passed in October 1896; speaking to the bill in the House, Seddon confirmed that this act legitimated the promise of self- government made by Donald McLean to Tuhoe 25 years earlier.

    Governor-General Lord Ranfurly visited the area on a farewell tour in March 1904. At a huge Maori Council hui in Ruatoki, he encouraged the Urewera iwi to make good use of their lands, "reserved by a special act of Parliament for them and their children forever".

    The King's representative spoke for the King – to the assembled Tuhoe, the King of England was the guarantor of this promise. Seddon, too, had earlier promised to be a true servant of the Crown, one who would protect Tuhoe interests.

    This would not prove to be the case, and the hopes of the old chiefs who had fought and argued in defence of their land and dignity were dashed.

    Land was sold to the government: more and more land was taken against Tuhoe wishes. What was meant to be an affirmation of their historic ownership rights was finally extinguished, in my own lifetime.

    Te Urewera National Park was first gazetted in 1954 and gradually increased in size up until 1979, with the addition of further parcels of Crown land.

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    Tuhoe are asking for nothing more than what they are entitled to: running the park area as those who live there, in whose interests it will be to welcome tourists, hunters, trampers and fishermen.

    They intend to manage their own schools and contribute as they have always done to the maintenance and revival of the Maori language. Tuhoe are the Urewera; they are not going away, and unlike politicians, they are not in this for the approval of the majority. John Key will leave the Beehive in due course, and history will judge him; Tuhoe will continue to live on their ancestral lands, and will achieve their aims.

    There is little doubt that Key's recent very public dismissal of Tuhoe hopes for the return of their ancestral land was a last-minute decision, made on the advice of his political minders, who had been reading the runes and not liking what they saw.

    The most recent poll in a newspaper has the vox pop running at 75 per cent against the return of that land into Tuhoe ownership.

    It would have been this kind of figure that National's pollsters were aware of a fortnight ago, when the Agreement in Principle was due to be signed at Waimana, after two years of difficult but productive negotiations.

    Tuhoe had been led to believe – in private discussions with the prime minister and other senior National figures – that the return of their papatipu (homelands) was "difficult, but do-able".

    Key the pragmatist seemed to be open, and Key the high-rolling gambler was willing to chance his arm.

    Then something happened behind the smile. We can only conjecture as to when the do-able became undo- able, and why he suddenly shut the gate on what his own Minister of Treaty Negotiations was encouraging the caucus to sign up to: the return of the park, devolution of powers (mana motuhake) and a compensation package of over $100 million.

    A number of factors are said to have come together: unease at the nature of the new legislation about the ownership of the foreshore and seabed; a lack of understanding about what Whanau Ora really is, and what it will cost; and the secret trip undertaken to the United Nations by Pita Sharples, springing on a sleepy and unprepared nation our ratification of the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

    The Maori Party seemed to be running the coalition cutter to such a degree that the electors were getting antsy.

    Somebody has said to Key: "This Tuhoe thing is a bridge too far – we have an election to win next year. If you do this, we're likely to reap the whirlwind come polling day – we could lose what should be a sitter for us."

    In other words, pull up.

    So the gambler took out another set of dice, marked "risk offending Maori Party", and rolled it – without first privately informing his coalition partners or the Tuhoe negotiators what he was up to.

    We live in a democracy, that's true, but there is such a thing as the tyranny of the majority.

    There have been other times in our recent history when prime ministers have stood up against a moral and ethical no-brainer, and caused a lot of pain and trouble, simply because they were trying to obey rule No 1 of political life: stay in power at all costs.

    Rob Muldoon allowing the Springboks to tour in 1981 is one example; another was Helen Clark refusing to let Maori have their day in court on the foreshore and seabed question (which led to the creation of the Maori Party).

    Well, majorities, like great leaders, can be wrong. Nobody has the right to prevent another person or group exercising democratic freedoms within the law.

    Tuhoe are acting within the law as it stands and their case is a good one. It should be allowed to go the distance, under due process, within the Treaty settlement ambit.

    Autonomy also means the right to make mistakes: we all enjoy that peculiar privilege as New Zealand citizens, and Tuhoe have the same rights – in their case the rights of the indigenous, the tuakana, the elder brother and the first on their land.

    Pakeha here are the teina, the younger, the ones who came second – it does not matter how many of us there are, the numbers will never add up if we persist in this very bad call, knowingly refusing to right a historic wrong.

    John Key, it's time to find some mana, and put away the dice. Leg 4

    * Jeffrey Paparoa Holman is an adjunct senior fellow in the School of Humanities at the University of Canterbury. His most recent book, Best of Both Worlds: the story of Elsdon Best and Tutakangahau (Penguin) is a study of the place of ethnography in late 19th and early 20th-century Tuhoe history.

  2. Tuhoe talks on again

    Friday, 21 May 2010

    TREATY negotiations minister Chris Finlayson has written to Tuhoe seeking a meeting in three weeks to renew attempts at a settlement.

    Government chief negotiator John Wood brought the letter to a meeting with Tuhoe negotiators on Tuesday.

    Chief Tuhoe negotiator Tamati Kruger said the letter was endorsed by Prime Minister John Key, who last week ruled out restoring Te Urewera National Park to iwi ownership, torpedoing efforts to achieve a settlement in the short term.

    Mr Kruger said Dr Wood explained the Crown believed that over the next three weeks it could assemble options that met iwi expectations.

    Mr Kruger had agreed to meet on the basis that it would be a “helpful way forward” and it would be interesting to learn what the prime minister viewed as an “acceptable option”.

    Mr Kruger was keen to learn why returning Te Urewera had so suddenly become unacceptable.

    “It’s going to be very difficult but if there is latitude on both sides, I’m hopeful we can find something.

    “John Key is not the first prime minister to disagree with what Tuhoe has been wanting for 120 years.

    “I’m just one of a long line of negotiators and if I can’t complete this task it will be inherited by the next generation.”

  3. An experienced treaty claims lawyer is calling for the whole treaty settlement framework to be reviewed. Rotorua-based Annette Sykes says negotiations between the Crown and Tuhoe stumbled yesterday because of the National Party’s agenda which is based on haste not justice. “Everybody is trying to do everything as fast as they can to meet this nominated National Party timeframe of 2014 which in my view is an ambitious foolishness and is now leading to unjust and untransparent and treaty decisions that are inconsistent with the principles of that have been built on by successful claimants like Ngai Tahu and Tainui,” Ms Sykes says.

    She says the National Party is hell bent on hurrying the treaty process so that it can privatise minerals largely found in national parks. At the same time it wants to exploit parts of the offshore seabed for petroleum, coal and gases and make them available for third parties.

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