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Iwi concerned over future of country’s oldest wharenui

Iwi concerned over future of country’s oldest wharenui

An East Coast iwi says they are concerned the Crown has not made good on its promise to return their wharenui – the oldest meeting house in the country.

“The Government promised to return our wharenui, now they are reneging,” said Willie Te Aho, the lead Treaty settlement negotiator for Rongowhakaata.

Te Aho is referring to the world renown wharenui Te Hau ki Turanga. Made of totara and built in 1842 by prominent carver and chief Raharuhi Rukupo as a memorial to his older brother, chief Tamati Waka Mangere, who signed the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, the wharenui was confiscated by the Crown from Ngati Kaipoho in Manutuke, Gisborne in 1867.

Mr Te Aho said that through the Rongowhakaata settlement in 2011, the legal owner of the wharenui is the Rongowhakaata Settlement Trust. But Te Papatongarewa (Museum of NZ) has possession of the house until March 2017.

“We are ready for our wharenui to be returned now, we want it home with us.”

Mr Te Aho said that the Minister of Treaty Settlements, Chris Finlayson was also breaking a promise to the late Parekura Horomia.

“At the first reading of the Rongowhakaata Claims Settlement Bill, Finlayson said ‘…I very much look forward to the day that that most beautiful wharenui is returned to its rightful place in Turanga. Mr Horomia is, of course, quite right. It is important – and it will happen, I promise him – that when it goes back, appropriate resources are provided so that it is housed and protected in a place worthy of the dignity of the wharenui.’”

Te Aho said that Finlayson restated this position in October 2012 when he and Te Hau ki Turanga negotiator Jody Wyllie walked the old Gisborne Railway lands – an area the iwi has identified as the prime location to house the wharenui.

“Clearly Minister Finlayson is all talk. And it is disappointing that we have been unable to secure any commitment from the Ministry of Cultural Heritage nor the Office of Treaty Settlements.”

Te Aho said that Te Hau ki Turanga Trust people had sought a meeting with Minister Finlayson for today while he was in Gisborne, launching the East Coast Potential Economic Study, but they were advised that the Minister did not have time. Te Hau ki Turanga Trust is led by Ngati Kaipoho and Rongowhakaata with support from Ngai Tamanuhiri and Te Aitanga a Mahaki.

“Ultimately, this should be a matter of honour for Minister Finlayson. He, on behalf of the Crown, made a promise to Rongowhakaata and more importantly, to a great man who has passed on.”

Rukupo refused to sell the building to the Crown in 1865, during the Crown’s attack on Turanga iwi. Two years later it was confiscated by Native Minister J C Richmond – informally acting as director of the Colonial Museum.

Today, Te Hau ki Turanga is regarded as one of the oldest and most significant carved houses in existence and one of the first to be built using steel tools.

© Scoop Media

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