Ngāi Tahu withdraws legal action after agreement reached over reclassification of Whenua Kaitiakitanga

By Marena Mane

A Ngāi Tahu panel will assess the whenua kaitiakitanga (stewardship land) that comprises a substantial part of the iwi takiwā (tribal area) and is home to threatened species and ecosystems. The panel will do so in collaboration with the Department of Conservation, two national panels and Conservation Minister Kiritapu Allan.

This comes after Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu initiated urgent legal action in relation to the stewardship land review process in the Ngāi Tahu area, claiming that the Crown began the process without their input.

Lisa Tumahai, Chair of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, says they have now struck an agreement that recognises Ngāi Tahu as tangata whenua over their statutorily recognised regions.

“It was disappointing that the reclassification process first announced in May this year took place without our involvement as the Crown's Treaty partner,” Tumahai says.

Tumahai is glad that DOC and Minister Allan have recognised their importance, as well as the mana whenua panel's suggestions for the reclassification of their significant sites.

“We've been kaitiaki of these lands for hundreds of years and a large proportion of the Ngāi Tahu tribal area is stewardship land. So it's really important that we're involved in this reclassification process.”

The mana whenua panel will be included in the full stewardship land reclassification process. “They'll help the national panel develop the review and the final recommendations that go to the minister.”

They will also provide a depth of understanding, “A Ngai Tahu context, historical context, Treaty settlement context, knowledge about wāhi tapu (sacred areas), mahinga kai (cultivation) sites, those areas that are of cultural significance,” Tumahai says.

“Also those areas that are stewardship land that aren't of ecological or preservation value, therefore, can be opened up for other options to be considered on.”