Hapu¯ locked out of land for over a century
Ma¯ori had to fight for more than 100 years to gain access to a culturally significant lake in Manawatu¯.
Lake Koputara, a reserve between Foxton and Himatangi, was the centre of discussion at the final day of the Waitangi Tribunal at Te Awahou Nieuwe Stroom in Foxton yesterday.
The tribunal hearing is for the Manawatu¯ ki Porirua inquiry, part of the overall Nga¯ti Raukawa Treaty claim on the historical purchase of thousands of hectares of land from Manawatu¯ toka¯piti.
This week of hearings is about the area around Foxton.
Pat Seymour is one of the trustees for Lake Koputara, which hapu¯ inthe area were cut off from for more than a century.
But they have been able to access the reserve since 2016 and have been working to restore its life force.
The Crown purchased the land around the lake in the 19th century, and it was sold to private owners in 1873, denying hapu¯ the right to use their land and resources.
The trust, formed in 1969, tried to gain access to the lake and lobby officials but were repeatedly met with dead ends. They were refused access and the ability to build a path to it.
After going through the courts, they were eventually granted access by one landowner and were given a right-of-way through private land by another owner, so they could finally access the land in 2016.
When they did return, the land had changed considerably.
Seymour said Lake Koputara had been a significant wetland, much larger than today, and the lake was abundant with tuna, bird life and flax. It went from unspoilt to what a trust member described as a barren windswept series of sand dunes.
Seymour said the lake had diminished, shrinking from ‘‘hundreds of acres’’ in 1865, and because of a drainage scheme, had dropped by a metre. Vegetation on the sand dunes had been grazed by stock and the dunes had been destabilised by wind.
Now the trust had created new wetlands and held planting days to restore the reserve.
‘‘This has been creating more opportunities for descendants to come back and walk on their whenua.
‘‘It’s the first chance in a generation for descendants of the five hapu¯ to walk on their land.’’
Tribunal member Monty Soutar said the area was known for its tuna and if a local delicacy wasn’t offered to visitors, it was a slight on the mana of the rohe. ‘‘If you can’t have access to your delicacies, that does something to you spiritually.’’
Another trustee, Ani Mikaere, said the land confiscation wasn’t a single wrongdoing. Rather, it was about layer upon layer of wrongs.
She said at every step the legal apparatus of the colonial state had acted against them, rewarding landowners’ bad behaviour and penalising hapu¯.
‘‘Generation upon generation of hapu¯ members [have] been met with disregard by the Crown and others.’’
She said they had been ignored, patronised and lectured.
Now that they could access the lake she felt relieved, but it was overshadowed by anger and sadness.
She asked the Crown for compensation for the ha¯pu’s work to regain access to the lake and restore it, to fund the restoration of the lake, and to make up for allowing the lake to become environmentally degraded.
The next week of hearings is in Feilding nextmonth.
‘‘If you can’t have access to your delicacies, that does something to you spiritually.’’