Three Ruapehu tribes are formalising their role as guardians of the environment with the launch of a new trust on Friday (March 9).
The environmental entity will be launched by Uenuku Charitable Trust (UCT) for the tribes of Uenuku, Tamakana and Tamahaki, whose ancestral lands stretch west and southwest from the mountains of the central plateau. The launch will happen at UCT’s Rā Wawata (Aspirations Day), which will be attended by the Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Andrew Little.
UCT chair Aiden Gilbert said the new charitable trust would develop and implement strategies to ecologically restore and protect ancestral lands and natural and historic resources.
“The vast majority of our tribal estate was taken by the Crown and is now in DOC hands and National Parks. Despite this, we have never lost sight of our kaitiakitanga (guardianship) obligations.
“The launch of Te Mano o te Whenua Tupua (which to us means “the ancestral heartland”), is part of an iwi-led, long-term strategy to provide a framework for our whānau and hapū to stand strong in their rohe and on their ancestral whenua. We have always been, and will continue to be, the guardians of our ancestral heartland.”
UCT is negotiating the settlement of Treaty of Waitangi claims. Mr Gilbert said the environmental trust is one of three subsidiary entities being established to enable social and cultural revitalisation, commercial development and environmental protection. The aim was to begin laying the groundwork for post-settlement development.
“The work of these three pou, or pillars, is to enhance the social and cultural wellbeing of our people, and to protect and care for the land,” Mr Gilbert said. “We don’t have to wait for claims settlement to begin this work – instead, we are developing strategies that will be independent of (but supported by) the outcome of settlement negotiations.”
The environmental trust will support Uenuku, Tamakana and Tamahaki to exercise kaitiakitanga and mana whenua over their customary areas, and to protect and conserve at-risk native species, natural landscapes and plant life.
UCT trustee Moana Ellis said the new entity results from aspirations expressed by members of the three tribes as part of the pathway to settlement. Iwi members had identified active and effective guardianship of land and natural resources as a key aspiration.
“There is a determination to nurture the biodiversity of our wild landscapes, natural habitats, and vulnerable taonga species, which are critical to our tribal identity,” Ms Ellis said.
“Our native forests are distinctive, with high flora and wildlife values. They are part of lands that are historically and culturally important, with centuries of occupation and use as the heartland of our people, including ancient walkways that supported our close connections with Taranaki and Taupo.
“Reconnecting with our whenua and its history will strengthen our distinctive cultural identity – another priority aspiration.”
UCT will also share its plans on Friday for a major biodiversity protection and ecological restoration project. The day will end with the release of four whio (native blue ducks) on the Makotote River.
UCT is meeting with the Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations on Friday to progress settlement negotiations. The Trust is the mandated entity for Te Korowai o Wainuiārua (TKOW) Treaty claims negotiations with the Crown. Terms of Negotiations between the two were signed on 20 February 2017, and UCT is now working toward agreeing a settlement package, with the next projected milestone being to reach Agreement in Principle by August 2018.