Te Whakatōhea will today sign their deed of settlement exactly 183 years on from their rangatira signing the Treaty of Waitangi.
The Eastern Bay of Plenty iwi Treaty settlement has been one of the longest-running and most contentious, with an initial $40 million offer rejected in 1996.
The claims process languished for a decade before beginning again in the late 2010s.
This time, the Crown offered $100m, 5000 hectares of marine space and the return of 6000ha of land, as well as cultural and commercial redress.
At the end of last year, the majority of the iwi voted to accept the Crown’s settlement offer.
But some members remain opposed to the settlement. Earlier this month, one hapū, Ngāti Ira, filed an application with the High Court in Wellington seeking interim orders to delay the signing of the deed.
The Crown invaded and ransacked the rohe of Te Whakatōhea following the killing of missionary Carl Völkner in 1865, which the Crown held Whakatōhea responsible for – an allegation that turned out to be false.
A year later, the government confiscated 144,000ha across the Ōpōtiki district, forcing hapū on to poorly resourced reserves and fuelling intra-iwi conflict.
The Waitangi Tribunal described the Crown’s actions around Ōpōtiki as “among the worst Treaty breaches in this country’s history”.
Graeme Riesterer, chairman of the Whakatōhea Pre-Settlement Claims Trust, said the land loss has had a profound impact on the people.
“This is a historic moment for Te Whakatōhea. Our tūpuna were forced off their lands and driven on to Ōpape reservation by the Crown, severing the connection our people had with the whenua across our rohe. This resulted not only in the loss of our lands but also their identity and connection to the whenua.”
Riesterer said the settlement would have long-term benefits that would affect generations to come.
“The settlement will be transformational for Te Whakatōhea. Our people are strong, but the settlement will provide increased opportunities for our whānau and community – we will be in a position to invest in our people and the local economy.”
Treaty Negotiations Minister Andrew Little said the journey towards settlement had been a difficult and complicated one.
He recognised that some iwi members still had concerns about the redress package, but said now was the time for the Crown and the iwi to face the future together.
“It’s really the starting point for the new relationship. The Crown accepts responsibility for what it’s done, has signed off the redress for the harm that it has caused and then commits to working in partnership with the iwi for the future.”
The signing ceremony will be held at Whitikau Reserve in Ōpōtiki. Whitikau was a significant site, which will return to Te Whakatōhea in the settlement.