Whenua returned six decades after confiscation by Rotorua council

By Will Trafford

Representatives of Ngāti Kearoa-Ngāti Tuara and Rotorua Lakes Council have signed an agreement to co-manage the Karamu Takina springs which supplies Rotorua's drinking water, in addition to returning the land to hapū. Photo / Rotorua Lakes Council

Rotorua Lakes Council has agreed to return the whenua that provides the water supply for the region, some 60 years after it was forcibly confiscated.

Karamu Takina springs was offered to council for use for the region’s water supply by hapū in 1954, but Ngāti Kearoa-Ngāti Tuara insisted the 14 acres of land would remain in Iwi hands.

At the same time as it tapped the springs, the council however used the Public Works Act to forcibly acquire the land.

In the proceeding years council also incorrectly charged some $125,000 of rates to hapū.

“It is 67 years since our hapū leaders agreed to support the community by providing water for the town. However, they didn’t agree to their lands being sold.” Robyn Bargh, Chair of Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Kearoa Ngāti Tuara said, describing the handover ceremony as “a momentous day”.

“Rotorua Lakes Council have agreed that the council doesn’t need to own the land. The Karamu Takina Spring can be co-managed with iwi. This is a wonderful, landmark decision for Rotorua Lakes Council.

The deal also includes two other pieces of land (Pururu North Reserve (tennis courts) and land at Tihi-o-tonga) to be returned to Ngāti Kearoa-Ngāti Tuara.

“It is fitting the signing ceremony was held at Tarewa [Pounamu Marae] as the Agreement also includes the return of lands gifted by our kaumatua, Patu Ruhi, in the 1960s for use as the Tarewa Tennis Courts.” 

“Council no longer requires these lands so they are also being returned to the iwi.” Bargh said.

Bargh congratulated outgoing Rotorua Lakes Mayor Stevie Chadwick and the council more broadly on negotiating the deal.

They not only understand the importance of co-governance with iwi, they have had the courage to make it happen.”

Chadwick said the event was formal acknowledgement of past wrongs which she hoped would go ‘some way’ to addressing them through partnership.

“The not-so-distant history of the forced sale of your lands and then Council’s failure to meet the obligations of that sale are an uncomfortable truth that had to be acknowledged and addressed.”

The Mayor remarked on the ongoing generosity of Ngāti Kearoa Ngāti Tuara, despite being taken advantage of.

“I am sad that it has taken us nearly 70 years to get to this point, but very grateful that we are finally here.

“I hope that, as I step aside from the Mayoralty, that at Council and within our community we have made progress over the last nine years in how we live and work as a bicultural community. Chadwick said.

“I particularly hope that leave a council that is more knowledgeable of tikanga Māori and te reo, better able to honour partnerships and is committed to our motto tatau tatau – because working together is our ultimate strength.”

Chadwick said the new partnership demonstrated the importance of ‘effective and genuine’ working relationships with mana whenua, in order to ‘deliver good outcomes’ for the benefit of the whole community.

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