Amid convoluted Crown negotiations with larger iwi entities, Ngāi Tūmapūhi-a-Rangi ki Wairarapa member Jess Jenkins is trying to stop the whenua of her ancestors being lost forever.
As one of four representatives from Aotearoa at the 2021 Apec Voices of the Future youth summit, Jess Jenkins (Ngāi Tūmapūhia-a-Rangi ki Wairarapa) had the inaugural honour of handing the youth declaration to the forum’s chair, prime minister Jacinda Ardern.
“That’s the greatest irony in all of this,” says Jenkins of the moment of symbolic unity.
Following the handing over of the declaration, the prime minister took a question about how Indigenous representation enables cultural understanding.
“She talked about how we have this treaty in New Zealand that is a living, breathing document, that we always try to uphold it, and I’m sitting there like, ‘eh?’”
Jenkins felt the prime minister’s words were disingenuous, as back home, she says the Crown is actively “exploiting its position as Treaty partner”.
“Why preach it on an international stage if it’s not going to be adhered to domestically?”
She’s referring to the struggle of her people Ngāi Tūmapūhi-a-Rangi ki Wairarapa to hold onto their claim to whenua that has ended up part of a deal between the Crown and a post settlement group made up of hapū of Wairarapa and Tāmaki-nui-a-Rua, Ngāti Kahungunu ki Tāmaki-Nui-a-Rua.
Jenkins, who was granted early admission to Harvard University at the end of her final year of school last year, is helping to raise awareness of her people’s plight and support her kaumātua, as time runs out to reach a resolution.
“I’ve seen my kaumātua fighting this cause my whole life and all of a sudden, it gets signed off without even allowing this process to finish.
“How can you extinguish 30 years of history with the click of a finger?”
The whenua in question is Ngāumu forest in Wairarapa, about 40 minutes east of Carterton. Ngā uri of the hapū point to the maunga, Te Maipi, and the awa, Kaihoata, situated within the whenua of Ngāumu, as evidence of their enduring connection.
“This is our whakapapa identity,” Ngāi Tūmapūhai-a-Rangi ki Wairarapa kaumātua Sue Taylor says.
Ngāi Tumapuhiarangi kaumātua Dr Tākirirangi Smith is versed in the whakapapa of the area, serving as a witness for the iwi’s Waitangi Tribunal claim, WAI 429.
“It’s difficult to articulate the loss of the culture and the impact that [colonisation] has had. It’s like we’ve been hit by an atomic bomb in Wairarapa,” says Smith.
The hapū, like their whanaunga Ngāti Kahungunu and Rangitāne, were left landless. With no whenua base for their people, it has been a struggle for Ngāi Tūmapūhia-a-Rangi ki Wairarapa to assert their identity. This mamae has intensified in the last two years by decisions made by the judiciary.
In March 2020, the Waitangi Tribunal interim determination report made recommendations to give Ngāumu Forest Licensed Lands to Ngāti Kahungunu Tāmaki-nui-a-Rua as reparations for previous grievances. The Tribunal can usually only make recommendations but it does have power under the Act to order the return of state-owned enterprises and Crown forestry lands to original owners.
The other piece of land ordered to be returned was Pouākani, 318 hectares located in the central North Island and home to the former Maraetai power station. However, this was overturned in the High Court by Mercury NZ Ltd and the Crown – the “legal owners” – supported by Ngāti Raukawa and Ngāti Tūwharetoa who have whakapapa ties to the land.
What made the ruling interesting was that the High Court ruled the Waitangi Tribunal was not consistent with the “tikanga of the Treaty” when it proposed awarding Pouākani to Ngāti Kahungunu ki Tāmaki-nui-a-Rua, because it was outside the iwi boundaries. The lands are now in the Ngāti Kahungunu ki Tāmaki-nui-a-Rua settlement package as a result of the Crown using Pouākani as reparations for destroying traditional food gathering sites over a century ago. Pouākani ended up back in Crown hands in 1949 after the government purchased it from Ngāti Kahungunu for £510 to build the power station.
Giving whenua outside of the rohe to another iwi, as in the case of the Tribunal ordering Pouākani (home to Ngāti Raukawa and Tūwharetoa) to go to Ngāti Kahungunu ki Tāmaki-Nui-a-Rua, was deemed to be inconsistent with tikanga by the High Court.
Now, Ngāi Tūmapūhia-a-Rangi ki Wairarapa are challenging the other aspect of the Tribunal’s recommendation: Ngāumu Forest being awarded to Ngāti Kahungunu ki Tāmaki-Nui-a-Rua.
Ngāi Tūmapūhia-a-Rangi ki Wairarapa aren’t taking issue with their Kahugnunu ki Wairarapa Tāmaki-nui-a- Rua whanaunga. They say the blame rests squarely with the Crown.
“Our beef isn’t with them, it’s with the Crown. We’ve always been under-resourced and on the back-foot. A lot of our whānau have been forced to identify as either Rangitāne or Kahungunu,” says Smith.
His primary concern is around the rangatiratanga aspect of the claim and the whenua. Having a whenua base is integral to building the capacity of his people’s well-being, he says.
“We have to support all our mokopuna who are showing potential for the future, because things have been pretty shot. My parents’ generations were pretty much obliterated in terms of culture.”
Jess Jenkins, the Apec participant, is one of those mokopuna. A passionate supporter of her people, she is calling on the Crown to delay the introduction of the Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairarapa Tāmaki nui-ā-Rua Settlement legislation into parliament. She says this would allow the hapū to have their grievances heard and afford them the right to a fair and just legal process.
But they’re running out of time.
In October, the Crown signed a deed of settlement with Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairarapa Tāmaki nui-ā-Rua. The settlement package includes the right to purchase 70% of the Ngāumu Forest Crown Forest licensed land.
“We need the Crown to adhere to their own processes to allow tangata whenua to have their grievances heard,” says Jenkins.
The Waitangi Tribunal sat under urgency in November, and Judge Carrie Wainwright stated the Crown’s Treaty settlement process was “unfair”, would “exacerbate divisions in the claimant community”, and “not be durable”. The recommendation was for the proposed settlement with Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairarapa Tāmaki nui-ā-Rua not to proceed at this stage.
The Crown has not yet responded to that ruling.
Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Minister Andrew Little told The Spinoff he intends to engage with the appropriate parties following the release of the Tribunal’s report.
“Then, I will consider how best to proceed, including deciding when to introduce the Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairarapa Tāmaki nui-a-Rua Claims Settlement Bill and Te Rohe o Rongokako Joint Redress Bill. In making a decision, I need to consider the interests of all parties.”
He said he would not be making further comments on the Tribunal’s report until he had done this.
For Ngāi Tūmapūhia-a-Rangi ki Wairarapa, the Crown’s integrity in how they honour Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the settlement process, is tied to the fate of their whenua.
“That’s the tūrangawaewae of my children,” says Jenkins.