Taranaki Maunga: Settlement looms on horizon, with changes in the wind
For Tama Blackburn, Taranaki Maunga is the one constant in a world which is forever changing.
“He’s the beacon to everyone and has been for generations, even before colonisation. He’s a symbol of the past, present and future and a unifier of all iwi in Te Tai Hauāuru.”
The mountain is the region’s most notable landmark, and a true touchstone for anyone who calls Taranaki home.
While dwarfing the landscape in a geographic sense, Taranaki Maunga can govern the region’s weather, transform into a recreational playground for skiers and trampers alike, while providing people with a strongly-felt sense of identity and belonging.
For tangata whenua, the links to Taranaki Maunga reside in the fabric of their whakapapa.
The mountain is an ancestor of the eight iwi in the region, and this indivisible connection is one of the elements which will be legally recognised as part of a pending Treaty of Waitangi Settlement.
It is now common practice to refer to the mountain as only Taranaki Maunga, with the New Zealand Geographic Board likely to be in catch-up mode to make things official, once the settlement process is formally over.
The Crown and Ngā Iwi o Taranaki are in the final stages of negotiating a deal to settle claims related to treaty breaches connected to the maunga.
But it’s not about money, it’s about cultural redress and providing a way to uphold the status of Taranaki Maunga as tupuna and recognise the mana, and relationship, iwi have to him.
The deal will see the mountain be given its own legal personality and protections under law, following in the footsteps of the same rights given to Te Urewera in 2014, and Whanganui River three years later.
The move supports the iwi view that ngā maunga is a living being, incorporating the peaks which will be referred to by their tupuna names of Taranaki, Pouākai and Kaitake.
The name Egmont National Park is also no more, replaced by Te Papakura o Taranaki.
The Mt Egmont Vesting Act 1978 will be another thing to go under the proposed deal.
This law saw the mountain returned to the region by vesting it to the Taranaki Māori Trust Board, who returned it back to the Government as a gift to the nation.
However, the Waitangi Tribunal, in its 1996 report about Taranaki, found little evidence to show hapū wanted this to happen.
The setting up of a joint governance entity, or the “human face” of the mountain, is on the cards as well, as outlined in the 2017 record of agreement known as Te Anga Pūtakerongo.
This group, will be made up of iwi-appointed members and the others chosen by the Crown.
However, it is understood one of the sticking points in terms of negotiations is how much say iwi will get in the management and operational decision-making, with the Crown wanting the Department of Conservation (DOC) to continue in that role.
ENHANCING THE EXPERIENCE
Blackburn’s connections to the mountain run deeper than personal affinity.
He is a DOC ranger, whose work is tied in with the Taranaki Mounga predator-free programme, which is trying to rid the mountain and ranges of animal and weed pests over a 20-year period.
And along with wife Gina, the couple own and operate Nau Mai Tours, which specialises in taking small groups around to soak up the special spots Taranaki has to offer.
Blackburn said the upcoming settlement and the opportunities it will bring to reinvigorate the cultural understanding of Taranaki Maunga is one of the reasons they initially set up their tourism venture.
The Blackburns (Tama affiliates to Ngāti Maniapoto and Gina to Te Atiawa and Ngāti Mutunga) knew settlement was on the horizon and saw the positive possibilities it offered to the region.
“It definitely impacts on us and it’s the whole reason we created the business.
“We just wanted to have that portal to share that with visitors and with our people,” he says.
He believes people have nothing to fear about the settlement process in terms of it either limiting their access or curbing their recreational pursuits.
“If anything, it’s going to be enhancing the experience and allow people to share in the culture.”
He says mana whenua are keen to share their stories to ensure respect is shown to Taranaki Maunga in order to increase the understanding of the wider public.
“It’s going to be an educational experience more than anything.”
Blackburn doesn’t get too hung up about the small group of die-hards who continue to refer to the mountain as Egmont.
He thinks this view will eventually disappear and be replaced with generations who will only ever know him as Taranaki Maunga.
“It’s going to be a pretty cool experience over the next five to ten years, due to the settlement.”
It remains unclear when a final deal will be done.
In a written statement, Treaty Negotiations Minister Andrew Little confirmed work was ongoing to secure an agreement between the Crown and Ngā Iwi o Taranaki.
He says most of the elements have been agreed upon but there are a “small number of outstanding matters”.
Little declined to comment on the agreement’s terms, saying it would be inappropriate to disclose any details at this stage.
He says talks between the two groups will resume in early 2021, but he could not give a timeframe regarding when the deal would get formally signed off.
Jamie Tuuta, lead negotiator on behalf of Ngā Iwi o Taranaki and its mandated spokesman, was approached for comment about settlement progress and its implications but did not respond prior to publication.
DOC was also approached for comment on the settlement but it referred Stuff to Te Arawhiti, or the Office for Māori Crown Relations for a response.
This office had previously referred Stuff to Minister Little.
Top Guides director Rob Needs says his organisation was out of the loop in terms of the finer details of the settlement and how this might impact business, which is already battling thanks to the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on international tourism.
“We don’t expect impact, but we just don’t know. What we are relying on is that we are a good, ethical operation, and we’ve tried our best to have a good relationship with iwi partners,” he says.
“We are absolutely in survival mode at the moment. If settlement withdrew our ability to operate in the national park then Taranaki would lose a visitor asset that may never be replaced.”
Needs says Top Guides always aims to deliver its services in line with ensuring the mountain, as a tupuna, is given the respect he deserves.
An example he shares is the decision the guiding business made five years ago to not actively promote summit walks, to reflect feedback given by iwi about how the mountain peak is considered sacred.
Needs admits mountain guiding is a European-dominated industry, but he feels over the years he has developed a special relationship with Taranaki Maunga.
And ironically, it is one which tears him completely down the middle, with his personal view clashing directly with preserving his business interests.
“In my life I have come to appreciate him (Taranaki Maunga),” he says.
“To be brutally honest, I don’t want tourism on the mountain. It’s our place.
“If I sit down with my bank manager, we want visitors, but if I speak from my heart, I just want it for locals only.”