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River settlement trustee vows to fight removal

River settlement trustee vows to fight removal

A founding trustee of the pan-tribal entity set up to manage the Whanganui river settlement says she will fight a decision that she has brought the Trust into disrepute.

Susan Osborne was removed as a trustee following a finding by four of the seven trustees of Ngā Tangata Tiaki o Whanganui that she brought the Trust into disrepute. Ms Osborne said today that the decision is wrong and it was likely she would issue proceedings in the High Court against the Whanganui river settlement entity.

“The decision by Ngā Tangata Tiaki o Whanganui is based on an allegation that I strongly deny. It relates to matters that are completely unrelated to the business of the Trust and, in fact, happened long before the Trust was established.

“My family and I are disappointed and saddened. This process has been going on for two long and difficult years. It has taken an enormous personal and financial toll.

“However, the decision is wrong and unjust and for that reason the fight is not over. The support of my family and iwi and hapū from the length of the Whanganui river has been tremendous.”

Ms Osborne said the allegation was wholly unrelated to the Whanganui river settlement enacted in March this year, or to Ngā Tangata Tiaki o Whanganui, which was put together in 2015.

The decision was delivered on Tuesday by four “Independent Trustees”: Rawiri Tinirau, Chris Kumeroa, Keria Ponga and Ned Tapa. The remaining trustees – Gerrard Albert and Miriama Cribb – removed themselves from the process. Mr Albert, the current chairman of Ngā Tangata Tiaki o Whanganui, was formerly married to Ms Osborne.

Ms Osborne, currently a civil servant, has over 10 years’ governance experience on various Boards including the DHB iwi relationship board Hauora a Iwi, the Whanganui Hospital Advisory Board, Te Oranganui Iwi Health Board, Te Oranganui Audit Risk and Finance committee, and Jigsaw. She was a coopted trustee on the Whanganui High School Board in 2006, and serves on a number of family trusts including Ngati Wai o Ngati Tama Trust and Mere Te Aroha Marae Trust. Ms Osborne and Mr Albert for 12 years together co-ordinated the annual tribal journey, the Tira Hoe Waka, down the Whanganui river, and more recently she has continued to co-ordinate the trip alone following a request by the iwi.

She said the process of inquiry by the Trust had been difficult.

“I have been forced to defend myself – within a process that has caused significant distress – against an historic allegation that I strongly deny. At the same time, I have continued to carry out my responsibilities as a trustee, according to the wishes of the people who elected me.

“This has been a stressful and hurtful two years, and extremely costly financially because of the need for legal advice. I have said very little pubicly, preferring to focus on trying to resolve the matter and move forward. But I now need to clear my name.”

In 2016, Ms Osborne and her family considered taking the matter to court but instead requested a tribal meeting at Kaiwhaiki to address the issue according to traditional marae custom.

“I have always aimed to resolve this issue by being open and upfront, and I asked for a process of reconciliation. The issue was thoroughly discussed before members of the iwi at Kaiwhaiki.”

Tamahaki kaumatua Paora Haitana said Ms Osborne continues to have the support of her people up and down the river.

“Anyone who has ever worked with Susie, especially in her capacity over many years as a co-ordinator of our annual tribal pilgrimage down the river, knows that she is a person of integrity who would not do anything to compromise the good standing of our taonga or our people. It is precisely because she is trusted and respected that she was appointed by the iwi in 2009 as a Tira Hoe Waka co-ordinator. She was nominated by iwi leader Piripi Haami at Ohinepane on the second day of our two-week journey, and her appointment was supported by Sir Archie Taiaroa and unanimously by the people there on the banks of the river.”

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