The Treaty of Waitangi is New Zealand's founding document, which was first signed on 6 February, 1840. The Treaty is an agreement, with versions in Māori and English, between the British Crown and around 540 Māori rangatira (chiefs).
The Treaty was signed at Te Waipounamu (the South Island) in 1840 at four different locations, three of which were within the Ngāi Tahu takiwā (territory). As a result of the signings at Akaroa, Ruapuke Island and Ōtākou, Ngāi Tahu became a party to the Treaty of Waitangi. It was a treaty of cession transferring Ngāi Tahu land to the crown.
By 1849, when the Crown began defaulting on the terms of a series of ten major land purchases dating from 1844, earlier suspicions of the Crown's good faith by some Ngāi Tahu chiefs were confirmed and the Ngāi Tahu claim 'Te Kerēme' was born.
Generations later, the Ngāi Tahu claim against the crown, 'Wai 27', prompted an extensive inquiry over 3½ years. It involved 23 hearings, 900 submissions, 262 witnesses and 25 corporate bodies.
Trevor Hapi Howse, a Wai 27 negotiator, belongs to a generation of Ngāi Tahu, perhaps the last, who learned in childhood the traditional ways of gathering and preparing natural resources. The knowledge and skills passed to him by his grandparents were relied upon in daily living. Some are still practiced today.
"When the tide was low we ate, when it wasn't at times we went hungry.
Referring to the impact of the fisheries legislation: It restricted our right to take the natural resource which we had relied on so heavily, the restrictions placed on those who could least afford it was a major catastrophe to the Māori."
Trevor Hapi Howse, Ngāti Kurī.
In 1992 The Waitangi Tribunal, which heard the inquiry, recommended amongst other things that the Crown and Ngāi Tahu negotiate a settlement of sea fisheries.
As well, the Tribunal recommended a percentage of fishing quota be allocated to Ngāi Tahu, that Te Waihora, Lake Ellesmere, be returned as an eel fishery and marine areas be set aside for mahinga kaimoana (traditional food gathering).
Margaret Johnson of Taumutu remembers when eels were plentiful at Te Waihora… “The creeks that ran into the lake were clean and you could see the stones on the bottom. As kids we used to take a picnic and play in the creek. We’d chase black flounder around and catch them. And we’d catch cockabullies and go whitebaiting…”
In the settlement of 1998 the bed of Te Waihora, Lake Ellesmere, was returned to Ngāi Tahu. Now New Zealand's largest cultural and ecological restoration project is about to take place at the lake. Ngāi Tahu has a co-governance agreement and commitment with Environment Canterbury, the regional council, to clean up the lake after decades of damaging farming practices. Numerous stakeholder groups are supporting the project, which is expected to span two generations.
This is an example of how Ngāi Tahu works in close partnership with the Crown to manage New Zealand's national resources. Two other great estuarine lakes in the Ngāi Tahu takiwā, Wainono and Kaituna, are also in the early stages of restoration and rejuvenation projects.
For sources and more information: www.waitangi-tribunal.govt.nz The Ngāi Tahu Sea Fisheries Report 1992; read about the Ngāi Tahu claim and settlement www.teara.govt.nz/en/ngai-tahu; regarding Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu tribal news and activities www.ngaitahu.iwi.nz; its commercial entities, www.ngaitahuholdings.co.nz sustainable fishing and working with other iwi www.manamoana.co.nz (Treaty Tribes Coalition); regarding Te Ohu Kaimoana www.teohu.maori.nz (The Māori Fisheries Trust) and for more on Te Waihora; www.tekaraka.co.nz. For more information on customary fisheries regulations visit www.fish.govt.nz.