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Revolutionary plan for Te Urewera

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November 2017 Issue
In a new management plan for Te Urewera, the land comes first. 

A new plan for the former Te Urewera National Park has been lauded as a world first for the way it embodies the values of indigenous people.

Te Urewera National Park became a legal entity with the ‘rights, powers, duties and liabilities of a legal person’ when the Te Urewera Act was passed as part of Tuhoe’s treaty settlement in 2014.

As a result, the 212,673ha park was removed from the national parks network, and from Crown ownership, and a board was formed to act ‘on behalf of Te Urewera’. The board has four members each from the Crown and Tuhoe, but the Crown representation will eventually be disestablished.

In September, the board approved a management plan, Te Kawa o Te Urewera, which is like no other park plan in New Zealand. The term ‘te kawa’ means to lay out protocols. It focuses ‘not on rules, but on traditions, beliefs and relationships’. The activities in the park will be guided by values, led by the principle of what is best for Te Urewera, focused on preserving the natural features, cultural heritage and providing public use and enjoyment.

Tuhoe leader Tamati Kruger declined to be interviewed, but said in a short statement that the management framework needed a fresh approach based on Tuhoe’s long relationship with Te Urewera.

“Tuhoe is quite sure that the way forward is not a copy-and-paste mentality from the previous regime and that Tuhoe has accumulated centuries of knowledge and has customs and practices that can create a better balance of true life,” Kruger said. “Te Kawa o Te Urewera is about people management for the benefit of the land.”

Concessions will be managed by the board, but are called ‘friendship agreements’. The plan says the process for approving, monitoring and adapting these agreements will be similar to the previous concessions regime, but designed to achieve broader standards for the impact on Te Urewera.

All tracks and the 40 huts in the park will continue to be managed by DOC, though  Tuhoe will eventually take on their management too.

The plan has received widespread support, including from DOC, Federated Mountain Clubs (FMC), Fish and Game and the NZ Deerstalkers Association.

FMC president Peter Wilson has been involved in the creation of park plans for nearly 15 years and said the Te Urewera plan was a huge leap forward.

“We think it’s the model,” Wilson said. “We are holding it up as the best. It turns the concept of the management plan on its head – it’s about managing the people, not the land.

“I think we will see the same with Tongariro, and maybe Taranaki.”

He said concessions would be managed in a more positive way.

“To get a concession, the first assessment is how will it benefit Te Urewera, not on whether you comply with the rules of a plan. The onus is on improving land and Tuhoe.”

He said the lack of rules and regulations didn’t concern him.

“You don’t need a lot of measures for the land to thrive.”

University of Otago law professor Dr Jacinta Ruru is an expert in national park law and completed a PhD and Masters looking at how national park law could be remodelled to allow for greater indigenous perspectives. She said the plan was a major step forward.

“What Tuhoe and the Government has enabled here is groundbreaking,” she said. “It puts the Maori worldview front and centre.”