Our nation’s history

By Amokura Panoho

On 1 May 2021 the iwi Rangitāne gifted back to the nation, Pūkaha Forest (Mt Bruce) that had been returned to their ownership as part their Treaty of Waitangi settlement. Amokura Panoho who has whakapapa (genealogy) to Rangitane iwi believes learning more about the history of this country will create better understanding of the ‘significant generosity of spirit’ Māori demonstrate, despite the injustices of the past.

Learning more about my whakapapa connections to Rangitāne iwi has been a recent journey of discovery. Raised predominantly in Taranaki around my maternal tribal connections of Te Atiawa, Taranaki and Ngā Ruahinerangi, I barely spent any time during my childhood and adult years in the Wairarapa/Manawatu region that my father, Ellison Te Naera Greenland hailed from. The occasional sad occasion of a tangi (funeral) of a relative would necessitate the responsibility, but the reality of living and raising a family in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland limited any possibility of frequent visits.

By Amokura Panoho

On 1 May 2021 the iwi Rangitāne gifted back to the nation, Pūkaha Forest (Mt Bruce) that had been returned to their ownership as part their Treaty of Waitangi settlement. Amokura Panoho who has whakapapa (genealogy) to Rangitane iwi believes learning more about the history of this country will create better understanding of the ‘significant generosity of spirit’ Māori demonstrate, despite the injustices of the past.

Learning more about my whakapapa connections to Rangitāne iwi has been a recent journey of discovery. Raised predominantly in Taranaki around my maternal tribal connections of Te Atiawa, Taranaki and Ngā Ruahinerangi, I barely spent any time during my childhood and adult years in the Wairarapa/Manawatu region that my father, Ellison Te Naera Greenland hailed from. The occasional sad occasion of a tangi (funeral) of a relative would necessitate the responsibility, but the reality of living and raising a family in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland limited any possibility of frequent visits.

Nevertheless, I recently returned out of a desire to remember and honour a grand-aunt and uncle, Kuini and Walter Reside who had raised my father, their nephew. Upon Dad’s passing, my two sisters and I inherited shares he had in turn inherited from his father, Walter and an aunt and uncle who had died without issue. This meant we became shareholders in two significant Māori land incorporations known as the Aohanga Incorporation (7,200-hectare station) on the Wairarapa Coast and the Makirikiri Aggregated Trust (553-hectare station) located directly behind Pūkaha Forest. Land blocks we had little knowledge of until recently.

With other Greenland whānau members also keen to better understand our whakapapa and land shareholding connections, we held a little ceremony to clean Walter and Kuini’s headstones where they reside in the Masterton Cemetery, and unveil a new plaque connecting them to key ancestors from Ngāti Kahungunu (neighbouring Wairarapa iwi) and Rangitane iwi. We wanted to make sure they were remembered and in doing so, met other relatives not previously known to us who reaffirmed our hapū of Ngāti Hāmua and Te Hika o Papauma links.

It was while staying at Te Oreore Marae in Masterton, we learnt from our whanaunga (relative) Reihana Rimene of the gifting of Pūkaha Forest ceremony planned to happen the following weekend.

Learning about our country’s heritage is not just a unique experience for non-Māori, Pākehā, or new migrants. Many Māori have limited understanding of their own tribal history of where they come from, or even how the places, streets, towns they live in or are connected to, got their names. Ironically, we are likely to know more about places associated with the first and second world wars, the American War of Independence, and Queen Victoria, than we do of our Māori history.

Though negotiations to seek Treaty of Waitangi redress (mostly over decades with successive governments), are often described as arduous, hard fought for, or even traumatic, many tribal leaders recognise that the most positive element to come out of the process is the uncovering of their tribal history. This history is formally recorded and legitimized through the deeds of settlements that are then passed as Acts of Parliament.

For Rangitāne, key to their settlement was adding the Māori name Pūkaha to the Mt Bruce National Wildlife Centre and the Mt Bruce Scenic Reserve.

This occurred with the vesting and gifting back of Pūkaha Mt Bruce on 8 February 2020 from the Crown to the iwi Rangitāne, in recognition of how the whole area was successively acquired through the Public Works Act with the surrounding lands onsold to private landowners, effectively locking out the iwi from their traditional forest and food source.

Seventeen kilometres southwest of Eketāhuna, the 942-hectare lowland native reserve has stands of rimu, northern rātā, and kahikatea. In 1962, 55 hectares was set aside as a native bird reserve becoming a National Wildlife Centre in 1982.

With recognition of their status as manawhenua (customary landowners), Rangitāne gifted Pūkaha Forest back to the nation during a ceremony at the reserve, an act described at the time by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern as demonstrating, “a significant generosity of spirit”. The iwi will continue to be active in the conservation and forest restoration work that will be for the benefit of all New Zealanders.

Knowing this gifting was officially happening after I had left the region, I stopped in at the Pūkaha Wildlife Reserve on my drive back to the Palmerston North Airport. The name Pūkaha means strong winds, but it was a lovely balmy autumn day, with no sign of any gusts that would require me to wear extra clothing.

 

I walked under the canopy of native trees and stopped at the enclosures of the kōkakō (blue-wattled crow), kākā (large forest-dwelling parrots), and kārearea (New Zealand falcon), none of whom were willing to make an appearance. I went inside the dark tunnels to watch the resident kiwi snuffling their way through forest debris for their meal and I looked from a small bridge down on a pristine stream where significantly large long and short fin tūna (eels) lounged under the water. Many other visitors were also experiencing the ngahere (forest) like myself, enjoying the pure naturalness of it all alongside the birdsong. If I had more time I would have participated in the guided tours that were on offer, but I had a plane to catch.

No doubt with the advent of COVID-19 and restrictions on international travel, many New Zealanders will be visiting ngahere and other local spots, and getting more of a sense of the beauty we have in our backyard. However, very few will understand or know the local history associated to the place – Māori or settlor – or the significance of the names.

From 2022, the history of Aotearoa New Zealand will officially be taught in all schools. The draft curriculum content has been out for public consultation since February and closed on 31 May 2021.

Expectations are high as the draft curriculum has been developed in consultation with a diverse range of experts which includes Māori, Pacific, and migrant communities; historians, disabled peoples, kaiako (teachers), and curriculum leaders. The intention is to ensure that the country’s national education curriculum is fit for purpose – for now and the future – and supports the range of languages, identities, cultures, and well-being of all ākonga (learners) in Aotearoa New Zealand.

If in a generation’s time this enables my mokopuna (grandchildren) to have a better understanding of who they are and how they belong to the rich tapestry that connects them to the physical, spiritual, and cultural world of their ancestors, then our country is deserving of the ‘generosity of spirit’ our iwi demonstrate.

The writer absorbing Pukaha Forest