From back left: Aroha Kingi with 1-year-old Te Kapuarangi Kingi-Haronga, Tiraumaera TeTau, Jason Kerehi, and Mike Kawana. Front: Puakiteao Kingi-Haronga, 4, and Mavis Mullins. PHOTO/KAREN COLTMAN

KAREN COLTMAN
karen.coltman@age.co.nz

Hundreds of iwi members and supporters of Rangitane o Wairarapa and Tamaki nui a Rua gathered at Pukaha National Wildlife Centre on Saturday to witness the return of 942 hectares of their land.

The return of the land, on which Pukaha National Wildlife Centre is situated, is part of a $32 million Treaty of Waitangi settlement achieved in 2016.

Rangitane o Wairarapa cultural adviser Mike Kawana led an hour-long powhiri [welcome] speaking about the importance of the land to the iwi.

“Today is our day, it is about Rangitane,” Kawana said.

“I thank the Wairarapa mayors and Tararua district mayor, Pukaha management and the Department of Conservation for their work to protect this taonga, this treasure that we will together guard and protect.”

The Queen’s representative, Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy put her hand across her heart and held the korowai [feather cloak] she wore to address iwi members and their guests while she spoke to hand over the land.

“I thank you for giving me the privilege of wearing this magnificent korowai and am delighted to feel the aroha that has been woven into it, before it is returned and gifted to Pukaha by Rangitane to be displayed here,” Dame Patsy said.

“I know how arduous treaty settlements can be and I know how it draws every ounce of energy and commitment to undertake research, prepare for meetings and negotiate issues of such significance, representing your iwi and your tupuna [ancestors],” she said.

“The redress can never fully compensate for past treaty breaches but what it does is recognise you.

“You have been heard and the issues you raised, acknowledged. You have been recognised as iwi with your own identity.

“Pukaha is yours once more.”

Those gathered cheered and applauded her speech.

The governor-general took off the korowai, made by Rose Bittle, and put it on the representative for the landowners, chairman of Rangitane Tu Mai Ra Trust, Jason Kerehi.

He and the chairwoman of Rangitane o Tamaki nui a Rua Mavis Mullins said that the coming together of the two iwi at the beginning of treaty negotiations was a great way to begin negotiating with the crown.

“It really is like to going into battle and sometimes there was friendly fire from the inside,” Mullins said.

“But we are now one, it was the right thing to do, to weave together again for this outcome.”

Maori chants were performed throughout the ceremony and many stood to bring their voice to the waiatas [songs].

To bring the ceremony to a close, both iwi sung Uiui ki te Manu and Rangitane tangata rau with proud, strong, and joyous voices.

Two karakia [prayers] closed the event before a celebratory banquet was held.