In 1883 leaders of Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Tūwharetoa and Whanganui tribes petitioned for government endorsement of their authority over lands in what they called Te Rohe Pōtae (known to Pākehā as the King Country). The government did not endorse this, but agreement was reached that the external boundaries of the area would be surveyed.
Māori leaders also agreed to a survey through their lands of the route for a North Island main railway line. At the end of 1884 the government stopped private land dealing in an area specified in the Native Land Alienation Restriction Act 1884. This much larger tract of land came to be known as the ‘railway area’ because Crown land dealings within it were authorised under successive railway acts.
In 1886 the Crown defined an Aotea or Rohepotae Block, essentially the part of the petitioned region under the authority of Ngāti Maniapoto. Despite concern about the consequences, in 1889 Māori began to process land in the block through the Native Land Court, as the only way of securing title that would be recognised by the Crown. That process had begun earlier in neighbouring areas. Over the next 20 years, as the railway penetrated south (it reached Taumarunui in 1903), more and more land in the King Country passed through the court and then out of Māori ownership.
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