Three Ruapehu tribes shared plans on Friday for a major ecological and cultural restoration and tourism project with the Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations, Crown officials and local dignitaries.

Uenuku, Tamakana and Tamahaki are developing ideas for Te Manganui-o-te-Ao Sanctuary, an “inland island” ecological and cultural centre. Uenuku Charitable Trust, which is mandated to negotiate settlement of Treaty claims for the three tribes, is working on a proposal for a sanctuary to be developed on ancestral lands.

Uenuku chair Aiden Gilbert said the development of Te Manganui-o-te-Ao Sanctuary would be independent of Treaty settlement. On Friday at the Erua Conservation Area the three tribes launched Te Mano o te Whenua Tupua environmental trust, the second of three new entities that will lay the groundwork for post-settlement development. Te Ara Tupua social and cultural trust was launched in November, and a third entity will focus on economic and commercial development.

“These trusts will develop and implement strategies to realise the immediate and long-term visions of our whānau, who have told us they want to stand strong on their ancestral whenua,” Mr Gilbert said.

“Te Mano o te Whenua Tupua, our new environmental arm, is an enabler for our customary role as kaitiaki (guardians). Most of our tribal estate was taken by the Crown and is now in National Parks and under DOC management, but we have always been, and will continue to be, the guardians of our ancestral heartland.”

A number of potential sites have been identified. Assisting with development plans is Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research scientist Dr John Innes, advisor to a number of major sanctuary projects in New Zealand. At Friday’s presentation, Dr Innes discussed the possible establishment of a 200ha pest-free biodiversity sanctuary at Erua Conservation Area. The area is completely forested and would provide a unique plateau forest habitat. A core-halo concept would be created, with a fenced pest-free core area, surrounded by a halo or buffer zone that is intensively pest managed.

“This area has very high current wildlife values and is directly connected to other large native forest areas,” Dr Innes said. “The sanctuary would be a regional source of rare forest birds that will disperse naturally to surrounding forests. Wildlife like tieke (saddlebacks) that are currently absent from the site would need to be translocated in. The area could also provide sanctuary for birds like kakariki (parakeets), karearea (falcon), popokatea (whiteheads) and titipounamu (rifleman), which are already present and would thrive in a protected environment. Pest control in the unfenced surrounding forest and rivers could be increased to protect birds that move to re-populate the wider forest areas, and to maintain existing protection for whio (blue duck) and kiwi.”

Dr Innes said the sanctuary would also be a regional focus site for tourists seeking a wildlife and cultural experience.

The plans were shared during the tribes’ Rā Wawata (Aspirations Day). The team negotiating Treaty claims settlement for the three tribes talked to the Minister, the Hon. Andrew Little, and officials including MP Adrian Rurawhe and DOC Director-General Lou Sanson, presenting an historical and contemporary overview of the tribal estate, the impacts of Crown breaches, and potential solutions to the resulting social, cultural, economic, and environmental issues.

UCT trustee Moana Ellis said the Negotiations Team believes the Minister now has a better understanding of the scale of land loss, the severity of the breaches, and some of the inter-generational impacts.

“Our ancestral tribal estate was well over 615,000ha or 1.5 million acres. We are left with a single-figure percentage of that land. In the massive Waimarino block alone, unusually aggressive Crown purchasing and the biggest Crown partition ever – 415,500 acres to the Crown – resulted in the displacement and separation of numerous hapū from their homes and economic and cultural base.

“Such huge Crown acquisitions and loss of land resulted in rapid change for our tribes over a very short time. The impacts on our identity, culture, society, economy and overall wellbeing have been severe.”

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