A major arbitration hearing is underway to settle a long-running dispute over ownership of the Whakarewarewa Thermal Valley in Rotorua.
Both Ngāti Wāhiao and Ngāti Whakaue have ancestral ties to the land and have long fought for sole ownership.
But in 2013, an arbitration panel awarded each of them a 50% share instead.
Ngāti Whakaue was unhappy with the result and is now challenging the arrangement.
“It’s a bond that we believe has never been broken,” said Ngāti Whakaue leader Rawiri Waru.
“Back from the time of our ancestors, even before the native land court.”
Today the descendants of Ngāti Wāhiao brought a giant scroll, inscribed with their whakapapa, to the audience to show their historical connection to the whenua.
It was written by their ancestor Mākereti Papakura, who grew up in the village of Whakarewarewa.
“She was here in the village over 144 years ago… her house still exists today, and our family still lives in these houses,” said Mākereti’s great-great-granddaughter June. Grant.
“We can trace all of our people, just by looking at the connections, so the connections are just astounding.”
Pinenga Ariri Mere Kanea Taupopoki Iharaira, the direct descendant of one of the first Ngāti Wāhiao ancestors to arrive in Whakarewarewa, also attended the hearing.
“This is my home, this is Wāhiao tūturu, the whenua, the wharenui, the people who are here,” she said.
Ngāti Wāhiao has occupied the valley for at least 17 generations.
But Ngāti Whakaue maintains that he always had mana on the earth and asserts that Ngāti Wahiao’s presence in the valley until 1886 was only possible because she granted them permission.
“Of course you can have mana on something without having to be there,” Rawiri Waru said.
“Ngāti Wāhiao themselves have a whenua that they don’t live on but have been rewarded anyway.”
The concept of mana whenua was a key topic of discussion during the hearing, with both parties discussing whether it can exist or be sustained if there is no physical presence on the whenua, or if people leave the whenua for long periods and return. .
“The tribe has been here since the 1600s…when you own something, you don’t have to always live there to establish your interest. It’s there because you own it,” lawyer Ngāti said. Wahiao Donna Hall.
The two Te Arawa iwi are intertwined and there have been heated views from both sides.