This is the second in the series on Ngā Whenua Rāhui which is celebrating 25 years of achievements in the protection of Maori land and cultural traditions.
A rather extraordinary committee was set up
"Ngā Whenua Rāhui exists to protect the natural integrity of Māori land and to preserve Mātauranga Māori, so that the values, stories and history associated with our natural taonga are not lost to the world," says Sir Tumu Te Heuheu, the foundation chair of Ngā Whenua Rāhui Fund.
"Really how it arose was from the people out at Waikare in Northland, they wanted to sell their lands and mill their bush to pay their rates. Tom Parore, who was the Director of Māori Affairs for Northland (who has since passed away), wasn't happy with that and was trying to look at creating a fund to help Māori pay their rates and keep their land," recalls Ngāti Hine's Kevin Prime.
"So kaumatua Tom Parore was really the founding father of the fund and he brought a paper down to Wellington outlining his ideas. It became part of the then Labour Government's Indigenous Forest policy which was looking to protect the remnant areas of native bush on private land and allow only sustainable harvesting. A rather extraordinary committee was set up to progress the idea in 1989.
"There wasn't an area that recognised the Māori component, things to do with the mauri of the forest which is so important to Māori. Everything centred on high ecological criteria. You can register a wāhi tapu but you can't see it and it's not part of the landscape. And the mountainous part of a landscape which is our identity, the place where the chief might have sat and composed a song – that becomes something that people remember," says Kevin.
A series of hui were held to put the concept to Māori and there was great suspicion that this was the last of the great Māori land grabs in disguise.
Northland kaumatua Tom Parore holding a Toki Pounamu, a greenstone adze
But despite the suspicions, the committee was formed under the guidance of Sir Tumu. It reported directly to the Minister of Conservation and Mike Mohi was hired as the executive officer, reporting through the DOC system to Allan McKenzie who was manager of the Forest Heritage Funds. It began operating in 1991 and offered consideration payments (mainly to those with larger blocks) to owners in return for protection of their land for 25 years.
Kaumatua Sonny George from Waikare Northland, whose concerns over having to mill the bush to pay rates eventually led to the formation of NWR
"The only way to overcome the mistrust was to perform, to do the fencing, the 25-year covenants and giving cash consideration with no strings attached so long as you promise not to cut the trees down, and look after them together with us.
"So the early challenges were just trying to convince the people of the value. Doing some of those early Kawenata with the Minister, Denis Marshall, and it was often a situation where this bush which may have been in the family for hundreds of years and they have never done anything with it, and then suddenly somebody is giving them money and they can still own it and keep it."
Ngā Whenua Rāhui's talented Gisborne staff, 2015 (standing L-R: Taniora Kaiwai, Roland Pomona, Whakare Henare, Jonathon Paea, and seated front row: Hori Katipa, Krystal Phillips, David Keefe)
25 years of achievements
Ngā Whenua Rāhui celebrates 25 years of achievements in October this year. The funding programme provides protection for Māori landowners through the use of 25-year renewable Kawenata (covenants). In the late 1990s it was realised that legal agreements alone were not enough to save native species (possums do not read property agreements) and so expanded its reach to provide significant operational support for Māori landowners. Additionally its Mātauranga Kura Taiao Fund, established in 2002, seeks to preserve the history and stories associated with Māori land and tikanga.