Dear Crown by Ranginui Walker

by Ranginui Walker / 04 October, 2003
An open letter to Helen, Bill, Richard, Peter, Jeanette and Jim.
I have been here a thousand years. You arrived only yesterday. My territory extends 35km along the coastline of the Bay of Plenty from Maraetotara at Ohope in the west, to Tarakeha at Opape in the east and inland to the forested mountains in the south. In between the two coastal boundaries lies the Ohiwa Harbour, the abode of the bountiful "daughters of Whakatohea" - the mussels, cockles and pelagic species of fish that come into the harbour to spawn. Other tribes, namely Tuhoe and Ngati Awa, had access to the bounty of Ohiwa. When your tribe arrived from England you, too, were given access to the daughters of Whakatohea. I allowed you in because you brought wealth, new animals and material goods to trade with me. To confirm our relationship, I signed a treaty with you at Opotiki on May 27, 1840. For 20 years I prospered, growing crops and rearing cattle. I owned a flour mill and several coastal vessels to take my produce to the markets in Auckland.

I was pleased that your covenant guaranteed me ownership of my land and that you would purchase only land that I was willing to sell. To the east of Ohiwa is the Waiotahe River where all the iwi of the island, including Ngati Pakeha, were allowed access to the eternal pipi beds in the river. Along from Waiotahe is the confluence of two rivers, the Waioweka and Otara. That place, named Pakowhai, is where the township of Opotiki was established. The waters of the two rivers flow out to sea at Pakihi, another rich source of kaimoana that was shared with Ngati Pakeha who came to live with me. Some Ngati Pakeha intermarried with me and became members of my whanau and hapu. Their relations are my relations and what I have is shared with them.

East of Opotiki is the Waiaua River where Tapuikakahu was moved to exclaim, "Ah, the food at Waiaua! A sleeping place for men where nets are hauled along the beach." Less than five kilometres from Waiaua is the eastern extremity of my territory at Opape. The rocks there abound with crayfish, paua, mussels, kina, maomao and snapper. Although I am the kaitiaki, the custodian of these treasures, no one has been denied access to them. It is my duty as mana whenua to feed those who hunger for kaimoana. All I ask from them is respect and care for what my ancestors bequeathed to me.

Unfortunately, when I was outnumbered by your tribe, whose hunger for my land was insatiable, you made war on me to take my land. The pretext for your 500 troops invading my territory was the murder of the missionary Sylvius Volkner in March 1865. Volkner was killed by Kereopa Te Rau, a man who was no relation of mine. I understand that murder is a civil offence and the perpetrator should be apprehended and tried according to the law and the rights of British citizenship that you promised in article three of the Treaty. Instead, you made war on me, executed one of my chiefs, notwithstanding his protestations of innocence, and confiscated most of my land.

You, like the Indians of America, put me on a reservation, known as the Opape Reserve. The land that you confiscated for the military settlers of your tribe took away 30km of my coastline from Ohope to the Waiaua River. All that remains of my coastline is 4.7km from the mouth of the Waiaua River to Opape. Six years ago, you offered me $40 million in compensation for the land that you took. I turned down your offer. I am the only one to have done so under your Treaty-settlement policy. The reason for declining your offer was because you asked too much of me. Mine was a single issue of confiscation. Instead, for the $40 million you wanted me to agree to a clause stating that the quantum offered was to settle all of my claims, whether I had identified them, notified you of them and researched them or not.

I have waited five years before calling a hui to reopen negotiations with you to seek compensation for the wrong that you did to me. It was a warm spring day as I sat on the paepae of my marae at Omarumutu, on an elevated platform looking out to sea. In the distance I could see the steam rising from Whakaari, the volcanic island where I have taken mutton-birds since the beginning of time on these islands. I was crestfallen to learn when I went there recently that I would be charged $17 by the owner for landing on that island.

From Omarumutu, I can see the whole 4.7km of my coastline. In the sand dunes below is the estuary of the Waiaua River. Less than a kilometre from the river mouth is our urupa Rangimatanui. It was named after Te Rangimatanui, a rather humble and self-effacing man who was the first to be buried there. He proclaimed that he would not be offended if his children and their descendants dragged their eel catches over his grave on the way home. At the eastern end at Opape is my ancient pa site Taiharuru and its urupa nearby. This remnant coastline is sacred ground to me. It is mine and I will not concede it to you who represent the Crown. Notwithstanding your policy document on the foreshore Protecting Public Access and Customary Rights, I reserve the right to apply to the Maori Land Court for title to that bequeathed to me by my ancestors. I will not sell one millimetre of my coastline, and I will continue to share it, as I have always done, with those who love kaimoana as I do. You ask who am I? I am Te Whakatohea ki Opotiki.

(PS: Winston has been exempted from this missive because he and I belong to the Mataatua waka.)


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