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Writers and Readers Week Review: Lost Histories

Writers and Readers Week: Lost Histories

Report by Kerry Tankard

Lost Histories: On the work of Judith Binney
A discussion of Judith Binney’s Encircled Lands: Te Urewera 1820-1921 [BWB, 2009]
12 March 9.30am, Embassy Theatre

Session chaired by Paul Diamond; panel Dr Rawinia Higgins (Tuuhoe, lecturer in Te Kawa a Maui, the School of Maaori Studies at VUW), Rev Wayne Te Kawa (Tuuhoe, presbytarian minister), Dr Claudia Orange; Judith Binney absent due to unforeseen circumstances.

The panel discussion was a lively one, with animated participation from Rawinia and Wayne, the Tuuhoe members of the panel, and some interesting contributions from Claudia Orange. The book came out of Binney's researches for the Tuuhoe Waitangi Tribunal claim, lodged in 2008, which she then revised to include much more informal information and generous quantities of photographs, which all the panel members commented on, as Binney does wonderful captions to all her illustrations.

Tuuhoe whenua is a unique part of Aotearoa/NZ, an ‘autonomous tribal territory’ in the original situation, which has lead to many misconceptions as Government ministries and surveyors tried to gain more land for settlements in the early part of the twentieth century. The book, while covering the period required for the Waitangi tribunal claim, also brings the history forwards right up to the Police raids in 2007; Tame Iti spoke at the book launch, stating he was delighted with its publication, and Binney was given the name 'Tomairangi o te Aroha' at the event by the Tuuhoe elders.

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Rawinia and Wayne also discussed the way Te Rohe Potae o Tuuhoe has been misrepresented by others such as Elsdon Best, James Cowan and other writers, who whilst being Maaori academics, often did not have Tuuhoe interests at heart. Similarly early Maaori MP's Apirana Ngata, and James Carroll were unable to best represent the autonomy of Tuuhoe while in Parliament, although they did manage to gain 'Crown land' status for much of the Urewera Forest, to stop it from being broken up into farms or logged industrially.

Much of the book concentrates on the two main goals the Tuuhoe Iwi have for their claim – the return of Te Urewera, and Mana Motuhake for the Iwi (self-governance). Both Rawinia and Wayne are members of the Tuuhoe Rohe o Poneke, representing Wellington based members of the Iwi during the settlement discussions, and were pleased to say that they anticipate signing-off the Agreement in Principle by May 2010. This settlement is being watched carefully by many other Iwi, who would like to emulate Tuuhoe if the goals are successfully achieved.

During the question time, a member of the audience asked if the panel thought that the timing of the settlement had been accelerated so that it would be finalised before the trial of those accused in the Police raids begins in 2011. Both Wayne and Rawinia had not thought of this juxtaposition before, but said that they both considered that what had been done should not have happened, and that maybe the timing was significant – Rawinia adding 'and maybe then they'll turn around and say "we just gave a forest back to rebels" to start the whole argument off again!'

This was a very informative and considered panel discussion of Judith Binney's work, which I was pleased to have attended; and I thoroughly recommend a reading of Binney's work to any scholar of NZ History, and particularly anyone who wishes to understand the issues around decolonisation in our country.


Arts Festival website: Lost Histories: On the work of Judith Binney
Scoop Full Coverage: Arts Festival 2010

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