Taranaki iwi and the Department of Conservation have joined forces to create a unique Kaitiaki Whenua Ranger role to help support the management of 30 cultural redress sites transferred to the iwi as part of its Treaty settlement two years ago.
Wayne Capper has been appointed the first Kaitiaki Whenua Ranger and was symbolically handed over to DOC Taranaki at a pōwhiri this morning.
He will be employed by Te Kahui o Taranaki but seconded to DOC for two years before transitioning back to the iwi.
Mr Capper, who has a background in oil and gas, and sports administration, said he hoped more Taranaki iwi members and the wider community could be made aware of the cultural heritage sites in the iwi's rohe.
"Especially with the sites that we will be involved with as Taranaki iwi, I would like to see them prosper and grow and for more of our people to be aware of them and to understand the importance and the significant history behind the whenua of certain sites," he said.
"So the likes of Koru Pa and Tataraimaka and those kinds of sites that I feel unless you're actually out there and you have a genuine interest you wouldn't know a lot about them, and I know I've got family members who drive past them every day and wouldn't have a clue they are there."
Mr Capper said a lot of the sites were sensitive and a lot of planning would be required before attracting more visitors.
"That's a project that we are going to be working on too.
"Firstly, to ensure that people know about them, but also that they are well looked after so they are in a state when people do start to come and visit that these sites they are well maintained and looked after."
Te Kahui o Taranaki environmental manager Puna Wano-Bryant said the Kaitiaki Whenua Ranger role was important to the iwi.
"For Taranaki iwi we will definitely notice the difference because Wayne will have knowledge that we haven't had for a long time because our connection to those places has been disrupted if you like.
"We'll definitely notice it as an iwi the knowledge he brings back to us about the features and the physical health and wellbeing of those sites."
Ms Wano-Bryant said when Mr Capper returned to the iwi he would head up his own team and continue to do similar work.
She said although the role was new it was important to understand Taranaki iwi had never stopped being kaitiaki of the sites.
"Kaitiaki means you are responsible for and guardians of lands, estates, forests and fisheries no matter what comes your way. No matter what political changes come your way.
"So for us, even though the Kaitiaki Whenua Ranger role was a new role, it's not a new responsibility to us. No matter what we have always been kaitiaki of those sites."
DOC Taranaki operations manager Gareth Hopkins said it had taken a lot of planning to get the role over the line but he was now looking forward to Mr Capper joining the Historic and Visitor Assets team.
Mr Hopkins said Mr Capper would learn biodiversity and heritage protection skills and get great on-the-job experience to take back with him to the iwi.
"It's a wonderful opportunity for Wayne Capper to work with the team particularly in the visitor assets and historic areas where the team are highly experienced in this area and Wayne will be learning skills and getting the opportunities our other rangers do."
He said the partnership model worked out with Taranaki was on that other iwi should investigate.
"That would be great and even here in Taranaki we would be really interested in exploring that with other iwi of Taranaki."
The Crown 30 cultural redress sites transferred from the Department of Conservation to Te Kāhui o Taranaki include Te Koru Pā, Tataraimaka, Omata and Tāpuinikau, and the Nga Motu / Sugar Loaf Islands which Te Atiawa also have an interest in.