5 Jul 2009

Treelord assets formally handed to iwi

6:10 am on 5 July 2009

The paramount chief of Ngati Tuwharetoa says the eight iwi who now own 90% of central North Island forest land will set up their own forestry company.

A ceremony to hand over more than $500 million worth of forestry assets to eight central North Island iwi was held near Turangi on Saturday afternoon.

Na Te Ariki Dr Tumu Te Heu Heu told a large gathering at Hirangi Marae that the collective will move from landlord to commercial operator over the next 25 years.

He says leases of 176,000 hectares of land will be terminated as they expire and the collective will also look to harness the ancestral land for geothermal electricity generation.

"This vision has moved us beyond grievance settlement. We are now at the threshold of achieving significant development opportunities to enhance the well-being of our iwi, our hapu and our whanau," Dr Te Heu Heu said.

CNI Forum interim executive officer George Asher, says within 25 years, the eight iwi groups will go from being forestry landlords to active business operators, by allowing commercial leases to expire.

"Maori, who are the natural landownders, have never been in a position where they could exercise full control and redirect the full benefits of generation back to their people," he says.

A mock, oversized cheque for nearly $284 million was presented at the ceremony, marking the "Treelord" deal as the largest Treaty of Waitangi settlement in history.

As well as the cash, the settement is worth more than $200 million in land and assets.

The final settlement over the Kaingaroa forest area took place in June last year, making Maori the country's largest owners of forestry land. During six months of intense negotiations iwi groups had forged a plan to allocate the accumulated rentals equitably.

The Crown Forestry Rental Trust has had the forestry assets set aside for iwi since 1990.

The collective hopes the deal will provide iwi with a strong economic future as well as commercial and cultural redress for the Crown's historic treaty breaches.

Finlayson praises collective approach

Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson says the Treelords deal proves the merits of Maori taking a collective approach.

Mr Finlayson says it shows what can happen with dollars and land assets when separate iwi and hapu groupings share a unity of purpose.

He hopes there will be further celebrations for iwi that are able to wrap up Treaty claims by 2014, which he says is the Government's target date, not a deadline.