Lake Waikaremoana: Back in Tuhoe Hands

Waikaremoana are sacred waters of the Tuhoe tribe or Children of the Mist .During the colonial Land wars the region was the retreat of the rebel chief Te Kooti and his followers after the Hauhau resistance of the later Colonial Wars. In still later times Maungapohatu pa, north of the lake, was the home of the Maori prophet Rua Kenana and his followers.

The ten year celebration of the reclamation of Waikaremoana was important not only in the timing of being so short after the state inflicted terror against the Tuhoe peoples and other activists, but also ten years is a good measure of where Maori at at with the neo liberal attempt to squash our land rights ( the treaty settlement process), there were also numerous occupations at the time throught Aoteroa, Te Paatu, and Paikatore amongst others. Ten years on our people are still at the bottom of the heap of our our lands, living lives of poverty or greasing the wheels of the prison industrial complex. For those of us from the West Coast await Mining companies that are hell bent on ripping the life out of our foreshore & seabed. The "free" trade deal with china means that the settler govt have "free" access to our resources to continually squander and sell things that don't belong to them in the first place. Shawn Brant is right, those are our decisions and determinations to be made by ourselves.

Visiting Waikaremoana during this time was special to me. To give solidarity in person with those who had just experienced the viciousness of the nz settler state and to catch up with old comdrades that are still fight the good fight for our people and their lands. Witnessing one clear morning the beauty and majesty that is Hinepokohurangi. To the Wahine Toa (warrior women) I met and got to spend time with at Waikaremoana, you are my inspiration.

Val's article Lake Waikaremoana: Back in Tuhoe Hands follows video of the descendants and guardians of Waikaremoana telling us of their struggle to protect their lake for their generations to follow.


A camping ground near Lake Waikaremoana in the Bay of Plenty has been polluted for years and a solution to the problem has been slow in coming.

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On 1 January, Tuhoe welcomed people from around Aotearoa to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of the occupation at Lake Waikaremoana. The celebration began with a powhiri at Waimako Marae and then moved down to the original lakeside site of the occupation, adjacent to the motor camp.

The celebration was attended by members of the Tuhoe nation from around the rohe and by anarchists and members of Conscious Collaborations, an indigenous collective striving for a world that acknowledges Papatuanuku (Earthmother) by building synergies between indigenous, activist, and creative communities.

The gathering was held in the aftermath of the police raids into Tuhoe country on 15th October 2007 resulting in the arrest of Tame Iti, spokesperson for Te Mana Motuhake o Tuhoe and 16 others. When the gathering was organised in mid-2007, it was certainly about commemorating this past struggle. However, the October raids had a profound effect on the gathering, and subsequent police disclosure of evidence reveals that one of the motivations for 'Operation Eight' was very clearly about who owns this lake and the water in it.

Ten years ago, there were two different groups that had longstanding issues with the management of the lake: Nga Tamariki o te Kohu (the children of the mist) and Ruapani, led by Waipatu Winitana. Their aims were complementary, but not identical. Nga Tamariki o Kohu was concerned about the proximity of an oxidation pond to the lake and the overflow hose, with its potential to leak; the decline of kiwi habitat and population in the areas around the lake; the impact of possums on native fauna; the impact of deer and pigs on forest regeneration; and finally, the impact of tourists on the ecosystem of the Lake.

On the other hand, Ruapani's primary issue concerned the Department of Conservation's (DoC) management of the lakebed. By a Deed of Lease signed on the 21st day of August 1971, nine leading Kaumatua: Sir Turi Carroll, John Rangihau, Wiremu Matamua, Turi Tipoki, Te Okanga Huata, Canon Rimu Hamiora Rangihu, Tikitu Tepono, William Waiwai, Kahu Tihi together with (now) Mr Justice Gallen signed a lease to the Crown of 5,210 hectares (12,875 acres) comprising the bed of Lake Waikaremoana, the islands in that lake but excluding Patekaha Island and including the present foreshore above the 2020 foot contour in terms of Kaitawa Datum. The lease provided:

  • for an initial term of 50 years from 1st July 1967 with a perpetual right of renewal;
  • rental at the rate of $5.50 per centum per annum on the rental value to be fixed by ten yearly valuation and, if necessary, arbitration;
  • the lessee is to administer control and maintain the leased land in accordance with the provisions of the (now) National Parks Act 1980; and
  • access from continuous Maori Reserves to the lake's waters was reserved at all times as was a right of access from the Maori Reserves to the Wairoa Rotorua Road at a point to be mutually agreed between the parties.1

Under the terms of the lakebed lease, the Department was responsible for maintaining the lakebed in a pristine condition. Despite this clause, there were significant problems with giardia and invasive weeds in the lake.

After considerable discussion, members of Nga Tamariki o te Kohu decided that an occupation was the most effective way of getting these issues addressed. Many within Nga Tamariki o te Kohu felt that the Department of Conservation was not hearing their concerns. On the 31st of December 1997, approximately 20 people entered the site and prepared to occupy.

Some kaumatua had concerns about the way in which the decision to undertake the occupation was taken, e.g. that not all kaumatua had been advised that it was going to happen; ultimately, they were supportive of the aims of the action and keen to have the issues addressed. One elder, John Tahuri of Maungapohatu came from his hospital bed to support the occupation and subsequently left his tokotoko (talking stick) with the occupation as a sign of his support.

There were initial confrontations with police when they attempted to remove people from the site. Many of the younger members who provided security at the entrance to the occupation site simply told the police to bugger off as Tuhoe were on their own land.

During the course of the occupation, the then Minister of Maori Affairs, Tau Henare invited Tame Iti, who was the spokesperson for Nga Tamariki o te Kohu to Parliament in order that the issues of concern could be addressed.

Tame Iti travelled to Wellington in order to meet with Henare. He was, however, initially rebuffed when he arrived and was not given permission to enter the minister's office. Henare's actions were shameful and eventually Tame was successful in getting into see him. The minister agreed to hold a ministerial enquiry into the issues raised if the group agreed to vacate the lakeshore occupation.

After 67 days, the group decamped from the occupation site. The ministerial enquiry was held at Waimako Marae. It was, as can be expected from any such bureaucratic exercise, a total whitewash. "Nothing that we heard caused us to come to the view that the Department of Conservation was failing in its obligations to the two Trust Boards, as lessor, in its role as lessee in the management of the land as if it were a National Park."2 Nevertheless, the occupation was considered a success. In spite of the total denial of the validity of the issues raised, the occupation achieved some significant changes to the Department of Conservation's management of the Lake including:

  • an improvement of the relationship between tangata whenua and the Department of Conservation insofar as the Department viewed its responsibilities to Tuhoe more seriously
  • the oxidation pond was decommissioned and as of 2007 a new one is being constructed with the input of local iwi
  • management of kiwi habitat programme on Tapuna Reserve is completely controlled by local iwi

More significantly than the immediate results of the occupation was a strengthening of the iwi's desire for a return of control over the Lake. Naturally, Lake Waikaremoana forms a part of the Tuhoe claim under the Treaty of Waitangi settlement process. The occupation began a conversation about the need to have a permanent presence on the Lake again.

. . . . .

The last permanent settlement of Tuhoe on the Lake was likely at Tapuna Reserve in about 1940. The scorched earth policy where British soldiers invaded Tuhoe territory in the bitter cold of winter, burning crops, pillaging, murdering and leaving the people to starve in the 1860s was and is very much alive in the minds of Tuhoe people. Many members of the local iwi had left the Lake area fearing further Pakeha retribution. Te Ara, the Online Encylopedia of New Zealand, notes:

  • Old enemies of Tuhoe fought on the side of the government; they carried out most of the raids into Te Urewera during a prolonged and destructive search between 1869 and 1872. In a policy aimed at turning the tribe away from Te Kooti, a scorched earth campaign was unleashed against Tuhoe; people were imprisoned and killed, their cultivations and homes destroyed, and stock killed or run off. Through starvation, deprivation and atrocities at the hands of the government's Maori forces, Tuhoe submitted to the Crown.3

Given this experience and the subsequent invasion of Maungapohatu by armed constabulary in 1916, it is hardly surprising that many Tuhoe people have been wary of reestablishing a presence on the Lake.

The people at the occupation and at this 10-year celebration have committed themselves to the construction of a marae at the Lake. Citing Te Arawa, Nga Puhi, and Tuwharetoa as examples, James Waiwai a member of the original occupation noted that most other iwi have a presence at their respective lakes. It is a natural place for the tangata whenua to be as kaitiaki (guardians) of the lake and the surrounding land. The exact location of the marae will need to be the subject of consultation with people around the Lake, but the celebration gave new impetus to the desire to get on with its construction.

The other result of the occupation was a cementing of the desire for a full return of the Lake to Tuhoe control. Lake Waikaremoana is Maori freehold hand and is acknowledged as such by the 1971 Lake Waikaremoana Act. It is for the moment largely under the control of the Crown. The Department of Conservation is aware of the desires of Tuhoe for return of control of the Lake.

. . . . .

The celebration of the occupation at New Year's 2008 was initiated by Tame Iti in mid-2007. He and other members of Nga Tamariki o te Kohu wanted not only to commemorate the struggle for Tuhoe control of the Lake, but wanted to share the history and expand the support for the independence of the Tuhoe people.

Initially, the celebration was received with support from the local Department of Conservation. However, following the nation-wide police raids on 15 October, the arrests of Tame Iti and other Tuhoe activists along with the allegations of terrorism, there was a decided cooling of support from DoC.

After a rousing call to action by Tame Iti in which he invited 'freedom fighters and comrades' to the celebration, the local organising group was told to shut it down. They took a decision that if the police or anyone else tried to intervene that they would again occupy the site.

Fortunately, the organising crew prevailed and managed to extract the provision of toilets, a generator, petrol and wood for a wharekai (kitchen) from the local district council for the celebration. Local farmers also contributed food for the celebration. Police did surveil the celebration from the motor camp next door, but were not seen otherwise.

Over the four days of the celebration, the discussion about anarchist support for Tuhoe began. This relationship, born largely as a result of the police raids, will take much more talk and action to manifest into genuine trust and solidarity. There are many anarchists who want that to happen. There is a need for much discussion in the anarchist community of Aotearoa about what such support and solidarity actually means.

The achievement of tino rangatiratanga (translated here as 'sovereignty') for Tuhoe will happen and with it, will be the return of the Lake to their guardianship, from their ancestors and for their children.


The text of this article is based on an interview with James Waiwai (Ngati Hinekura, Te Whanau Pani of Tuhoe) on 4 January 2008 at Lake Waikaremoana.

1. Ministry of Maori Affairs: Te Puni Kokiri. 1998. Joint Ministerial Inquiry Lake Waikaremoana: Report to Minister of Maori Affairs, Hon Tau Henare, Minister of Conservation, Hon Dr Nick Smith. (http://www.tpk.govt.nz/publications/docs/lakewaikare.html accessed 7 January 2008)
2. ibid
3. 'Resistance: 1866 to 1872.' Te Ara: the on-line encyclopedia of New Zealand. (http://www.google.com/gwt/n?u=http://www.teara.govt.nz/NewZealanders/MaoriNewZealanders/NgaiTuhoe/5/en accessed 7 January 2008)

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