The train trip that brought Maniapoto and the Crown together

By Vaimaila Leatinu'u

There was a buzz of excitement at Te Kuiti train station as Maniapoto people awaited the charter train that would take them to Wellington to witness the third reading of the iwi's settlement claim. Photo / Vaimaila Leatinu'u

A group of Ngāti Maniapoto iwi opted to travel by train to Wellington for the historic third reading of their settlement deed at Parliament. For them, the trip was a nostalgic and symbolic reconnection between Maniapoto and the Crown, and a sombre recognition of parties' conflicts nearly 150 years ago.

The charter train departed Tāmaki Makaurau (Auckland) and made its way through Te Rohe Pōtae (King Country), filling carriages as it stopped in Kirikiriroa (Hamilton), Taumarunui and Te Kuiti along the way.

 Maniapoto people board the train in Te Kuiti to Wellington to witness the third reading of their iwi's settlement claim. Photo / Vaimaila Leatinu'u

All aboard: Maniapoto people board the train in Te Kuiti to Wellington to witness the third reading of their iwi's settlement claim. Photo / Vaimaila Leatinu'u

Iwi kaumātua and academic Dr Tom Roa hopped on the train at Kirikiriroa, initially hesitant about a nine-hour train journey.

"This is so exciting being on this line, going down to Wellington. The energy and the people is just amazing. Seeing people coming in, hugs and kisses," he said.

Kaumātua Professor Tom Roa on the historic train trip to Wellington for the third reading of Ngāti Maniapoto's settlement claim. Photo / Vaimaila Leatinu'u

Kaumātua Professor Tom Roa on the historic train trip to Wellington for the third reading of Ngāti Maniapoto's settlement claim. Photo / Vaimaila Leatinu'u

Following the height of the conflict in Ōrākau between Maniapoto and the Crown in the 1860s, Maniapoto established an aukati (boundary) around their remaining land to preserve their rangatiratanga (authority) and mana motuhake (independence and sovereignty). This included stopping Pākehā from travelling through the area without permission. Eventually, when the aukati was lifted, the construction through the King Country section of the main trunkline, Te-Ara-o-Tūrongo, could begin - a railway line which the iwi celebrated by travelling on yesterday.

A week earlier, Otago Museum had returned the symbolic taiaha Maungārongo, which was originally intended to be held and displayed at parliament in the 1880s. Instead, parliament rejected it and sent it to Otago Museum, where it had been since.

"Maungārongo was then instrumental as a symbol of the lifting of that aukati to allow the railway through. In 1885, when Wahanui gifted Maungārongo to parliament through then minister of Native Affairs John Ballance", said Dr Roa.

"However, the significance of Maungārongo was totally lost on the politicians of that time, so Maungārongo ended up in a museum in Otago."

Maniapoto kaumātua John Kaati hands the symbolic taiaha Maungārongo to Andrew Little. Photo / Vaimaila Leatinu'u

Maniapoto kaumātua John Kaati hands the symbolic taiaha Maungārongo to Andrew Little. Photo / Vaimaila Leatinu'u

The taiaha was passed from Professor Roa's cousin, John Kaati, to Minister for Treaty of Waitangi negotiations Andrew Little.

"It was incredible knowing that this was a taonga that comes from the 19th century. It's great to be part of that process of it being the symbol of reconciliation and peace and knowing it will go back to Ngāti Maniapoto in five years' time," Little said.

Dr Roa said Maungārongo would sit on display at Parliament for now and that the iwi would review taking it back again after the next five years.

"Or we might ask the government to keep it. It's testing the waters again. Can we trust the politicians of today to continue to keep their promises of a better future for Pākehā and Māori, working together for the future of Aotearoa, New Zealand?" he asked.

Pipitea Marae hosted the morning ceremony between Ngāti Maniapoto, representatives of the Crown and local government before the third reading of the Ngāti Maniapoto claims settlement bill in Parliament.

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