Members of the Mason family after a successful hunt in Ngaumu forest. PHOTO/SUPPLIED
The return of the Ngaumu forest block to Rangitane iwi will be a significant boost for many Wairarapa Maori, according to Jason Kerehi, chair of post-settlement governance entity,Tu Mai Ra.
He said Tu Mai Ra was pleased to offer the opportunity for Rangitane beneficiaries to hunt on their own land.
Ngaumu forest was originally planted in the 1940s to help stabilise hill slopes, repurpose marginal land and supply building timber.
It was one of the first major forests planted by the Crown.
The land returned to Rangitane iwi consists of almost 6000 hectares over three former Crown forestry blocks, including Castlehill, Tinui and the Waihora portion of Whareama Crown.
It marks the most significant property transaction in the Rangitane Tu Mai Ra Trust settlement.
Kerehi said the return of these lands was hugely important.
“Our people lost up to 97 per cent of their former lands. To say the return of these lands as part of the Settlement with the Crown is significant to our people is an understatement,” he said.
He said historically, the Ngaumu forest had helped serve as a transitional area during summer migration between the Ruamahanga Valley and coastal Wairarapa.
“There was a lot of seasonal movement,” he said.
Kerehi said local iwi were lucky that it had been converted into forest under the Crown, as opposed to being run as privately-owned farmland, as it had allowed for it to be returned as part of a Treaty of Waitangi settlement claim.
He said it was a good fit, as members of the iwi worked in the forestry industry.
“Juken Nissho Ltd [JNL] is really important to Wairarapa. Many of our whanau work at JNL or in the forestry industry so it’s important that we foster these relationships.
“We are working closely with our lessee JNL to ensure a smooth transition and will also connect with our farming neighbours,” he said.
He said they would continue to work with JNL, who have owned the current cutting rights since 1990, while Tu Mai Ra decided what it wanted to do with the land in the long term.
Kerehi said being reconnected with these lands as private owners would allow the iwi to take up the duties and obligations of caring for the land once again.
Part of these obligations included managing pest populations and preventing the likes of pigs damaging surrounding farmland.
Gaining ownership over the properties also opened up new opportunities for hunting and food gathering.
Hunters who were registered with the iwi would be able to apply for hunting access to the blocks.
There had already been a significant response from registered iwi members, including those from the Dannevirke-based o Tamaki nui-a-Rua, about access to Ngaumu.
“This is a really good opportunity to offer something back to our membership,” Kerehi said.
“We are just trying to get everyone a fair go and get some food.”
Local hunter Troy Mason, who has experience of the area, was announced as the inaugural kaitiaki [caretaker] for the Rangitane properties.
He comes from a long line of Maori hunters, having learnt from his father, Paddy, and now hunts with his children and mokopuna.
Mason said there was a good mixture of deer breeds, as well as a lot of pigs and goats, across the varied terrain of the three forestry blocks.
He said it was good for many Maori, as it gave them access to land for hunting.
“It has been locked up for a long time to certain people,” he said.
“We can start teaching our kids and our grandkids how to hunt.”
Hunting was a great way to help feed those in the community, and a chance to connect with the younger generation, he said.
Mason said many of the whanau hunters were committed to giving kai back for large gatherings such as tangis [funerals], or for local whanau and kaumatua.
Support from other members of the community was strong, with one farmer helping purchase a chiller and a local butcher offering to help process the meat.
Mason’s role would ensure that health and safety standards were met, and that people knew who else was in the bush with them.
“People’s safety is our primary concern so my role is to make sure people know where they can safely go and get kai for their whanau and marae,” Mason said.
He said it was about working with neighbouring properties to help manage pest populations while also providing for those in the community.
“We are doing a lot on maintaining our resources,” he said.
- Anyone interested in hunting in the area can register by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org or 0800 Tu Mai Ra [88-624-72].