Te Taperenui o Whātonga, previously known as Seventy Mile Bush, is located in the Tararua mountain range. Within this area is the Pūkaha Reserve, and today the people of Rangitāne in Tāmaki-nui-a-Rua and Wairarapa celebrated a 28-year long journey as their beloved Pūkaha forest was returned to them.
Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy announced to the attendees, “Today we have forged a relationship with the Rangitāne people of Tāmaki-nui-a-Rua and Wairarapa. Now, Pūkaha is finally yours."
Many from Rangitāne came to share in the occasion.
“I'm really happy, extremely happy. Most of our people from Rangitāne have come today, from our grandchildren to our elders,” Rangitāne ki Wairarapa spokesperson Mike Kawana says.
Tribute was paid to those who began the struggle that led to this day.
“I mourn for those of our elders who aren't with us. They were at the frontline when this all began,” Rangitāne ki Tāmaki-nui-a-Rua spokesperson Manahi Paewai says.
Rangitāne ki Tāmaki-nui-a-Rua chairperson Mavis Mullins shared a similar sentiment.
“Feeling quite emotional really but satisfied, our people feel and look happy. It's a significant day,” she says.
Former Māori Party co-leader Marama Fox was also pleased by the announcement but not completely satisfied.
“Even though I'm happy and it's important we celebrate this occasion, we only get it back for one year?” she asked.
Pūkaha Reserve stretches over 942 hectares and is home to the wild kōkako, kākā and the white kiwi. The Rangitāne people of Tāmaki-nui-a-Rua and Wairarapa have a vision for Pūkaha's future.
Mullins says, “The return of Pūkaha is really our ability to be at the table, it's an intangible demonstration of tino rangatiratanga. But in the long game, it does mean that our relationship with DOC is a lot more secure, that our relationship with the wildlife trust is secured and that we can be active participants in Pūkaha.”
"In the coming year, Rangitāne is seriously considering returning the reserve to the public,” Kawana says.
In addition to the return of the Pūkaha Reserve, the iwi will receive financial redress of $32.5 million, the right to purchase crown land and sites, as well an apology and acknowledgement of the treaty breaches.
“The treaty settlements process is quite traumatising and even though we've received a financial redress, it's taken forever to happen. We've fought for this land for so many years and the financial return is minimal,” Fox says.
Rangitāne has secured its guardianship rights over Pūkaha and will prepare for their future generations to take over.