The following article was orginally published in the June 2001 Nati Link.
Legal title to Hikurangi was lost to the iwi a century ago. Efforts to restore the mountain to the people began in 1989, with an agreement by the Crown to sell the part of the mountain, covered by Pakihiroa Station to Te Runanga o Ngati Porou, for $300,000.
The following year the Minister of Conservation agreed to return the Hikurangi Block, which had been part of the Raukumara Park, subject to a conservation covenant and an agreement over walkway access.
However, the final terms of the agreement had remained contentious until 1999 with the signing of a deed of agreement. Further delays came from litigation by Dr Hugh Barr and Public Access New Zealand. These issues were resolved last year. All loose ends were finally tied up when the application to provide a walkway easement and conservation covenant was signed off, June 20 - at Uepohatu Marae, Ruatoria.
“We were successful in having the whole mountain vested in the tribe. The accessway, the easement and the conservation estate falls entirely to us,” says TRONP chairman Mr Api Mahuika.
Mountain back in the hands of Iwi
“It’s quite different from other iwi mountains where they have to share management with DOC and also have to share other issues pertaining to their mountain with others than the iwi themselves,” adds Mr Mahuika. Counsel for the Runanga, Mr Matanuku Mahuika, says the outcome legally confirms the mana whenua status of Ngati Porou over Hikurangi. “The mountain does not belong to any one sector – it belongs to all of Ngati Porou,” he says.
An application to provide a walkway easement and conservation covenant was granted by Deputy Chief Maori Land Court Judge Wilson Isaac, assisted by Judges Caren Wickliffe and Pat Savage, after a hearing of submissions from the Ministry of Conservation and Te Runanga o Ngati Porou. Both parties supported the application and this coupled with the fact that the three adjucating judges are all of Ngati Porou descent.
The agreement ratified earlier this month at Uepohatu allows TRONP to withhold access to the mountain for up to 50 days a year for the purpose of spiritual, cultural or religious events and for farming operations. Since the alienation of Hikurangi and other Ngati Porou lands, successive generations have sought the return of the mountain to Ngati Porou.
In 1989 the opportunity to negotiate the return of Hikurangi became a reality. Colin Williams then owner of Pakihiroa and one half of Hikurangi, spoke with Tamati Reedy,the then Secretary of Maori Affairs to ascertain if Ngati Porou would want to purchase Pakihiroa, which encompasses Hikurangi. This became the platform for an 11- year debate and negotiations with Crown to expedite the return of Hikurangi to Ngati Porou.
The transfer of the title complete with covenant and easement to TRONP is a dream come true for Mr Mahuika and all those involved with negotiations for the return of the mountain. Mr Mahuika advised his son Matanuku Mahuika to take up the legal case at no cost – to right the wrong that had occurred when their great-grandmother Ngoingoi Harata Taheke from Te Aowera took part in the signing of the lease that first alienated the Hikurangi land from its people in the early 1900s.
“Research indicates that what our tipuna actually signed was a lease but the lease provision became a sale provision …and that is how rapidly the law was changing. What we understood one thing to be – became something vastly different the next day.”
Ngati Porou pakeke, led by Sir Henare Ngata, Tom Te Maro and Hunaara Tangaere, all stressed the importance of the mountain as a taonga of the Ngati Porou people.