In 1987 Te Arawa made claims to the Waitangi Tribunal concerning alleged Crown indiscretions before 1900. Two decades of war (in the 1860s and 1870s), followed by Crown-facilitated loss of lands and resources, disrupted the tribe’s ability to be economically competitive. The eruption of Mt Tarawera in 1886 exacerbated this period of depression. These and other setbacks prevented commercial development and led to heavy-handed intervention, including compulsory Crown purchases and on-selling for profit to outside developers. To make matters worse, returning First World War soldiers brought tuberculosis, and hundreds died during the influenza epidemic of 1918.
The outlook for Te Arawa had never been more grim. After the Second World War, young people had had enough. Limited resources, rural impoverishment and meagre welfare subsidies saw them leave to experience the wider world. The thousands who flocked to urban centres are today raising grandchildren, many of whom no longer know their marae. The elders of the tribe regretted the Crown’s slowness to redress broken promises, despite Te Arawa’s loyalty since 1860.
Tourism and development
For generations Te Arawa have been renowned for their skills in carving and weaving, and their talent for entertaining. Combined with the natural and sometimes volatile geothermal wonders, these cultural attractions have made Rotorua a popular tourist destination. The Pink and White Terraces, geysers and medicinal hot pools also drew commercial investment.
The Crown sought to encourage investors by developing Rotorua as a spa town. In 1877 Ngāti Whakaue agreed to build a spa where the city of Rotorua stands today. In return the Crown promised to protect Te Arawa lands. Te Arawa presented to the Crown their most prized treasure, Pūkākī (the gateway from Te Mātaipuku-Ōhinemutu pā), to symbolise their promise. Unfortunately the gift of Pūkākī was not officially recognised until 1997, 120 years after it was taken into ownership by Auckland Museum.
In 1881 the Fenton Agreement to develop the town was signed by the leading elders of the kin group Ngāti Whakaue. But developers became upset as the township lands remained under tribal control, stifling their investment. Letting Te Arawa control the natural attractions further heightened tensions. Events conspired against Te Arawa. The passing of the Thermal-Springs District Act 1881, loss of representation on the town board and consequent Crown interventions resulted in the tribe losing economic control over the presentation of their culture and natural treasures to the world. Geothermal sites remain legislatively controlled and outside Te Arawa’s influence. In 2006 the claim concerning the Rotorua lakes was settled with an apology from the Crown and a recognition of Te Arawa's mana (authority) over the lakes.
Te Arawa settled its treaty claim to the lakes in its region on 18 December 2004. The settlement provided for financial redress of $10 million and $400,000 for fishing licences. Title to the beds of Lakes Rotoehu, Rotomā, Rotoiti, Rotorua, Ōkataina, Ōkareka, Rerewhakaaitu, Tarawera, Rotomahana, Tikitapu, Ngāhewa, Tutaeinanga and Ngāpouri was transferred to Te Arawa.
On 11 June 2008 the affiliated Te Arawa iwi/hapū settled their historic treaty claims. This settlement, part of a central North Island Iwi Collective settlement, was
valued at about $38.6 million. It included the return to the affiliated Te Arawa iwi/hapū of 19 areas of Crown-owned land.
Two smaller iwi closely associated with Te Arawa later settled their own historic Treaty claims. The Ngāti Rangiwewehi settlement, dated 16 December 2012, was valued at $6.2 million. Hamurana Stream was renamed Kaikaitahuna Stream. Ngāti Rangiteaorere had partially settled its treaty claims in 1993. A full and final settlement was agreed on 23 June 2013, at a cost of $750,000 and the transfer to the tribe of three sites of significance, including the 321-hectare Lake Okataina Scenic Reserve, to be known thereafter as Whakapoungakau.
Te Arawa continue to provide Rotorua visitors with their hospitality, performances of songs and dance, feasting, and display of arts and crafts as passed down by their ancestors. Young people entertain thousands of the world’s inhabitants in their own backyard. This will enable them to take over marae roles in later life, and to play a part in the wider world.