Māori resistance results in Te Urewera gaining legal personality, New Zealand

Decades of resistance led by Tūhoe Maori has resulted in their ancestral land, Te Urewera, being granted legal personality and Tūhoe reclamation of management rights.


Decades of resistance led by Tūhoe Maori has resulted in their ancestral land, Te Urewera, being granted legal personality and Tūhoe reclamation of management rights. Prior to this ruling, Te Urewera was the largest national park on North Island between 1954 -2014. [3] Contrary to other Maori groups, Tūhoe never signed the Treaty of Waitangi, aiming to maintain sovereignty and control over their lands. Nonetheless, they were forced to become subjects of the New Zealand government, which seized control of most of their lands and authority over their affairs. Tūhoe were not consulted in the creation of Te Urewera National Park, and lost significant access for customary use of the land. The government now recognizes that these severe restrictions have contributed to the current situation of 85% of Tūhoe living outside of Te Urewera, with those inside the area struggling economically and socially.  [3] Tūhoe argued that only by regaining ownership and control of Te Urewera and their traditional relationship with the land would they be able to exercise their spiritual authority through guardianship. The Crown, however, has refused to transfer ownership of the park to the Tūhoe, instead offering to grant Te Urewera legal personality, thereby 'owning itself'. Tūhoe accepted, and the agreement was settled in March 2013 with accompanying legislation approved in July 2014. [3] Under the Tūhoe -Crown settlement -- Te Urewera Act 2014, Te Urewera National Park officially became Te Urewera, a legal entity, on July 27th, 2014, with management responsibilities transferred from the Department of Conservation to a new Te Urewera Board.   [1] The composition of the Te Urewera Board will include equal membership (4 each) of Crown and Tūhoe appointed representatives for three years, after which the total membership will be 9, of which 6 will be Tūhoe appointed and 3 appointed by the Minister of Conservation. [1,3] Tūhoe spirituality must be taken into account in Board decision-making. [3] The budget will be equally contributed to by the chief executive of Tūhoe Te Uru Taumatua and the Director-General of Conservation, unless they both agree otherwise. [1] The Te Urewera Bill, which includes redress of around NZ$170,000,000, takes the place of the 1980 National Parks Act as the primarly legislation regarding management and control of Te Urewera. The area will still meet the criteria for a Category II Protected Area under the International Union for Conservation of Nature. [2] The Te Urewera Act grants the Board the power to grant activity permits and make by-laws. One new type of permit allows for use of indigenous plants as well as hunting indigenous animals, as long as species preservation is not adversely affected. [3] The legislation of the Te Urewera Act allows future mining, saying that Te Urewera land will be treated as Crown land under the Crown Minerals Act 1991, which would allow mining activity authorized by the Crown to take place without Board authorisation. [1] This act marks the first time in New Zealand´s history that a national park has been permanently removed from the legislation. [1] Please note that the 'impacts' section refers to the impacts of the historic appropriation of Te Urewera by the Crown, and not the granting of legal personality.

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Basic Data
NameMāori resistance results in Te Urewera gaining legal personality, New Zealand
CountryNew Zealand
SiteTe Urewera National Park
Accuracy of LocationMEDIUM regional level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Biodiversity conservation conflicts
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Establishment of reserves/national parks
Land acquisition conflicts
Specific CommoditiesLand
Tourism services
Ecosystem Services
Biological resources
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsTimeline of Te Urewera land appropriation [5]:

1840: Treaty of Waitangi signed by many Iwi. Tūhoe leaders did not sign, aiming to maintain sovereignty. Nevertheless, the Crown assumed sovereignty over their territory.

1862: first government visitor to the Urewera district

mid-1860s onwards: multiple violent invasions of the Urewera district by the Crown

1865: Crown forces invade via the Waikaremoana district. Entire settlements destroyed, prisoners executed.

1866: Some Tūhoe taken prisoner at Waikaremoana and elsewhere after East Coast Wars. Held without trial as 'political offenders'. Government made arrangements to confiscate their lands.

1868: Guerilla fighter Te Kooti and followers escaped, faced harassment by government forces, resulting in conflict in which more than 50 people (both Māori and Pākehā) killed at the settlement of Matawhero.

1869: Urewera district grants Te Kooti sanctuary. As a result, Crown implemented scorched earth tactics, destroying Tūhoe homes, crops, and livestock. Period of starvation began.

1871: Tūhoe chiefs reached agreement with the Crown, promising to exchangeTe Kooti for the Crown to respect their internal autonomy. Although Te Kooti escaped, Tūhoe's rohe potae or encircling boundary came into existence.

post-1871: new governing body for Urewera district, Te Whitu Tekau, established. Declared opposition to land sales, surveys, roads and other tools of colonisation that could threaten Tūhoe independence. Crown and private agents make efforts to violate 1871 agreement in order to buy land and put it under English law, particularly due to rumours of gold and other valuable minerals in the area.

Crown tactics to undermine rohe potae reportedly included land purchases on Urewera perimeter with rival iwi, secretive advances paid to needy individuals post-war that would later have to be repaid in land, generating indebtedness generally, forced surveys which required land in payment, fraud, home evictions, and illegal partitions.

early 1890s: series of disputed surveys sparked more conflict

1896: agreement between Crown and Tūhoe stipulating that the Native Land Court would not be imposed on Tūhoe's remaining lands provided they agreed to an alternative title investigation process, and Tūhoe internal autonomy protected as long as Crown recognized as ultimate authority. The agreement granted right of purchasing solely to the Crown.

1898: In just one year as many as one-fifth of total population of around 1600 die due to famine, disease, and crop failure.

post-1896: Series of legislative amendments incrementally undermine Urewera self-government.

1910: Crown begins buying land interests directly from individuals, in direct contravention of its own laws.

1921-22: Urewera Lands Act of 1921-22 passes, repealing the 1896 Act, representing complete end to any self-government and providing basis for more land purchasing. Demands that Tūhoe contribute land for roading resulted in loss of another 40,000 acres, though most of these roads were never built. Because more land was taken for survey costs, Tūhoe were left with just 16% of the Urewera reserve, much of which was not farmable or had conservation restrictions.

1930s: By the 1930s, large numbers of Tūhoe were moving away to seek employment.

1954: Establishment of the Urewera National Park in 1954, further restricting access to customary resources and ability to develop lands adjoining or enclosed by the Park.
Project Area (in hectares)212,700
Level of Investment (in USD)>120,088,000.00
Potential Affected Population>34,890
Start Date01/01/1860
End Date24/07/2014
Relevant government actorsNew Zealand Government

The Crown

Maori Tūhoe
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)HIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Groups MobilizingIndigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of MobilizationLand occupation
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage)
Potential: Other Environmental impacts
Health ImpactsPotential: Other Health impacts
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Loss of livelihood, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Land dispossession, Displacement, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment
Potential: Other socio-economic impacts, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Specific impacts on women, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusStopped
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseInstitutional changes
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Court decision (undecided)
Negotiated alternative solution
New legislation
Project cancelled
Granting of legal personality to Te Urewera, cancelling status as National Park
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Sources and Materials

Te Urewera Act 2014
[click to view]

[1] Tūhoe-Crown settlement – Te Urewera Act 2014
[click to view]


[3] Nature as an Ancestor: Two Examples of Legal Personality for Nature in New Zealand
[click to view]


[2] Tūhoe Claims Settlement and Te Urewera bills passed

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Press Release: New Zealand Government
[click to view]

[5] October 2014 Māori Law Review

Tūhoe-Crown Settlement – historical background

Dr. Vincent O'Malley
[click to view]

In New Zealand, Lands and Rivers Can Be People (Legally Speaking)- New York Times
[click to view]

Media Links

[4] Te Urewera. Photo from Te Ara Encyclopedia Story: Ngāi Tūhoe
[click to view]

Other Documents

Te Urewera Photo from Te Ara Encyclopedia Story: Ngāi Tūhoe [4]
[click to view]

Meta Information
Last update25/06/2017