Since 2014 Te Urewera has been recognised in law as its own legal identity. It is land that owns itself, a New Zealand and world first approach to protecting nature and connection to the land.

Invasion to national park

The New Zealand government (the Crown) invaded Te Urewera, the home of the Tūhoe people, in the 1860s and 1870s. Land was confiscated, villages and food stores were burned, and many Tūhoe perished through execution or starvation.

As a peace settlement, Tūhoe were given unique self-government of Te Urewera in 1896. However, successive New Zealand governments ignored their own law, and acquired more and more land illegally.

In 1954 the Crown announced the area as a national park without consulting Tūhoe. Remaining Tūhoe territory and settlements were surrounded by the park, causing further disconnection from the land that had given Tūhoe people shelter, food and survival for centuries.

Te Urewera as legal entity

In 2013 Tūhoe people of Te Urewera and the Crown (government) settled the Crown’s historical breaches against Tūhoe, agreeing a unique approach to protecting Te Urewera in a way that reflects Tūhoe culture and New Zealand values.

Te Urewera’s national park status was lifted and the land was removed from Crown ownership. Te Urewera Act 2014 recognises Te Urewera as a legal identity. Uniquely, Te Urewera now owns itself, and exists for its own sake.

The purposes of Te Urewera Act are to:

  • strengthen and maintain the connection between Tūhoe and Te Urewera
  • preserve the natural features and beauty of Te Urewera, the integrity of its indigenous ecological systems and biodiversity, and its historical and cultural heritage
  • provide for Te Urewera as a place for public use and enjoyment, for recreation, learning, and spiritual reflection, and as an inspiration for all.

Te Urewera Board, consisting of Tūhoe and Crown appointees, provides a voice for Te Urewera and welcomes all visitors. The Tūhoe tribal authority, Te Uru Taumatua, provides operational management of Te Urewera and the Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk. The Department of Conservation provides support and assistance with former national park assets.

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