An Uenuku delegation is heading to Parliament on Tuesday, the day before Whanganui iwi negotiators initial the Whanganui River Deed of Settlement with the Crown.
The deal is being negotiated by the Whanganui River Maori Trust Board on behalf of Whanganui iwi, but Uenuku hapu, whose rohe are covered by the negotiation, say they have not been given a voice. The cluster of hapu, whose lands have historically extended from the mountains of Ngauruhoe, Tongariro and Ruapehu to the sea, has not seen the Deed of Settlement.
Attempts to initial the deed in February were stalled when Uenuku called for an urgent hearing of the Waitangi Tribunal to delay the signing until hapu were properly consulted.
“Our hapu still haven’t seen the deed. We still don’t know what’s being signed off here,” Uenuku chair Aiden Gilbert said.
“Initialling the deed signifies agreement in principle to the proposed settlement, and Uenuku – which comprises 26 hapu – wants to know what’s in that agreement before it is initialled. We need to know that the voices of our hapu are not being silenced under this agreement, and that they will retain kaitiakitanga of the waterways and lands to which they belong.”
At a hui in Raetihi on Saturday, the iwi resolved to send Tuesday’s delegation to Wellington in an attempt to again delay initialling to give hapu time to consider the proposed deed. On Friday Uenuku will lead a protest in Whanganui from Pakaitore to the Kingsgate Hotel in Victoria Avenue where Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson will meet with iwi to continue settlement discussions.
“The river trust board has only ever had the statutory right to negotiate with the Government for claims relating to the Whanganui River. It is a narrow brief and there is no evidence that the boundaries of Whanganui or their people extend to the korowai (cloak) of Uenuku, or supercede the manawhenua of other hapu,” Mr Gilbert said.
Mr Gilbert said that over the years the original claim for the Whanganui River had widened, absorbing all the tributaries ‘from the mountain to the sea’. Potential settlement included Crown-held land reserves which could be vested as part of settlement in the name of Te Awa Tupua, the legal entity that will be created to receive settlement assets.
“When the river trust board was created for the purpose of dealing with the Whanganui River claim, the Crown created a statutory body to represent three hapu of Whanganui – Tama Upoko, Hinengakau and Tupoho. Uenuku is not identified as one of those hapu. Our boundaries, rivers, streams and lakes go through lands that are not in the rohe of Whanganui – so how will we be heard, and how can we protect our kaitiakitanga of our tributaries, waterways and lands?”
Negotiators had not addressed another key concern that the proposed deal may allow Te Awa Tupua to absorb all hapu claims for land 200m either side of the river and its tributaries. Mr Gilbert said these issues must be addressed before negotiators initial the deed.
He said Uenuku was highlighting a national issue.
“The Crown is pressuring Maori to rush through the claims process. It is choosing to deal with select groups and leaving others out. It’s happening all across the motu. We’re one of the largest settlements left, and our issue is that our authority and identity has been usurped by others – and we’re not the only ones. Treaty settlements are being pushed forward because of political pressure but there are fundamental issues that need to be ironed out before settlement can be achieved.”
Mr Gilbert and Uenuku kaumatua Don Robinson have been invited to view the deed on Monday (today) but this left no time to inform Uenuku people about the deed’s contents let alone discuss any concerns before initialling on Wednesday.
“The Crown and Te Awa Tupua negotiators say hapu will have the opportunity to see the deed during the ratification process which follows, but that is shutting the door after the horse has bolted. Agreeing to the deed in principle pre-determines the outcome. We ask for the right for our people to scrutinise the proposal, to speak and to be heard before anything is agreed.”