Āpirana Ngata, Ngāti Porou leader and politician, said this of Ngāti Awa in 1899:
‘Ngāti Awa is a sick people because of the punishments of the law … and I wept for them that had been made to suffer so harshly by the government.’
Rebuilding an iwi
During the late 20th century Ngāti Awa leaders began the difficult task of reconstructing their tribe, but with little outside support. Unlike other tribes, Ngāti Awa did not have a tribal trust board, nor did they have access to government resources. However, they persevered and eventually achieved some degree of success. The results of those efforts were seen with the establishment of a tribal authority, the Ngāti Awa Trust Board and its successor, Te Rūnanga-o-Ngāti Awa. The tribe have a radio station, Te Reo Irirangi-o-Te Mānuka Tūtahi, and a centre of higher learning, Te Whare Wānanga-o-Awanuiarangi, as well as a number of related tribal development organisations. Ngāti Awa have also been rebuilding the Mātaatua wharenui, an important cultural and historical icon built in Whakatāne in 1875. Taken from them in 1878, Mātaatua was subsequently transported to Sydney, Melbourne, the Victoria & Albert and South Kensington Museums in London, and Dunedin. Returned to Whakatāne in 1996, the restored meeting house reopened as a centre of Ngāti Awa history and culture in 2011.
A positive outlook
Today, 22 sub-tribes, 19 marae and about 17,000 individuals are registered with Te Rūnanga-o-Ngāti Awa. Compensation for the unfair confiscation of land has been the aim of the tribe since 1867. During the 1990s considerable progress was made through the Waitangi Tribunal and negotiation to bring these claims to a resolution. In 1999 the tribunal’s Ngāti Awa Raupatu report was published, leading to a settlement agreement in 2003 and the Ngati Awa Claims Settlement Act 2005. That settlement, valued at about $42 million, included $1 million to help redevelop the Mātaatua meeting house complex. The Crown gave a statutory pardon to those who were arrested, tried and labelled as rebels, and in respect of all matters arising out of the land wars in 1865. When all grievances are resolved, the tribe’s motto, taken from the dying words of Ngāti Awa and Ngāi Tūhoe chief Te Mautaranui, will take on a new and more positive meaning:
He manu hou ahau, he pī ka rere.
I am like a fledgling, a newborn bird just learning to fly.