Te Tiriti o Waitangi (the Treaty of Waitangi) was signed by Ngāi Tahu raNgātiratanga in 1840, marking the beginning of what Ngāi Tahu saw as a partnership between the iwi and the Crown. The Treaty gave the right to govern to the Crown, but guaranteed to iwi the full exclusive and undisturbed possession of their lands, forests, fisheries and other properties (Article 1 and 2 respectively).
Māori Text: “Ko te Kuini o Ingarani ka wakarite ka wakaae ki nga RaNgātira, ki nga Hapu, ki nga tangata katoa o Nu Tirani, te tino raNgātiratanga o ratou wenua o ratou kainga me o ratou taonga katoa. Otiia ko nga RaNgātira o te Wakaminenga me nga RaNgātira katoa atu ka tuku ki te Kuini te hokonga o era wahi wenua e pai ai te tangata nona te Wenua, ki te ritenga o te utu e wakarite ai e ratou ko te kai hoko e meatia nei i te Kuini hei kai hoko mona”.
English Text:”Her Majesty the Queen of England confirms and guarantees to the Chiefs and Tribes of New Zealand to the respective families and individuals thereof the full exclusive and undisturbed possession of their Lands and Estates, Forests, Fisheries and other properties which they may collectively or individually possess so long as it is their wish and desire to retain the same in their possession….”
By 1859, the demand for land by European settlers resulted in a government purchase of the Kaikōura District. Mackay Jr. was sent to secure both the West Coast and the Kaikōura blocks from Ngāi Tahu. Mackay wrote to Kaikōura Whakatau at Mikonui, inviting him to discuss the purchase of the land.
“…Mackay found that under the seasoned and capable Kaikōura Whakatau they [Ngāti Kuri] were far from passive towards European encroachment on their lands. Maintaining their rights in their rugged country, with its towering mountains, fertile coastlands and rich sea fisheries and shellfish beds, was a matter of mana – a combination of duty and pride.”
Most of the land that Ngāti Kuri claimed customary title over (from Te Parinui o Whiti to the Hurunui) had already been sold or leased to settlers by the Nelson Land Office. For example, Ngāti Kuri had requested a large pastoral reserve between the rivers Kahutara and Tūtaeputaputa (Conway), which was refused – because the land in question had already been leased to three run holders.
Early resistance by Ngāi Tahu to the sale of their lands was met with steady pressure until an agreement was finally signed between Ngāi Tahu and Commissioner MacKay. Mackay finally got Kaikōura Whakatau and others to sign the Kaikōura Deed at Fyffe’s house on 29 March 1859. The deed conveyed the Māori title in the million-hectare block to the Crown, in return for a payment of 300 pounds and the provision of some coastal reserves.
The largest reserve, at Waipapa and Mangamaunu, was a long coastal strip of about 4 795 acres that Ngāti Kuri wanted to maintain access to seafood and fishing grounds, and because of the karaka groves there.
The dispossession of land that followed the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi and the Kaikōura Purchase had a profound effect on the spiritual, cultural and mahinga kai relationship between Ngāti Kuri and the environment. With settlement and agriculture came land clearance, habitat loss, drainage and diversions of natural waterways, and the introduction of exotic species. As the physical landscape changed, so did the ability of Ngāti Kuri to access manage resources upon which they depended.
Customary management practices, based on the principle of kaitiakitanga, once allowed tangata whenua to sustainably harvest and conserve natural resources. Over time, external management structures marginalised tangata whenua from decision-making processes pertaining the lands and waters of Te Waipounamu.
Despite the changes in land ownership, and the ability of Ngāi Tahu to express traditional relationships and exercise kaitiaki responsibilities, the history and identity of Ngāti Kuri remains on the landscape. Wāhi ingoa (place names) and other culturally important landscape features are tangible reminders of the extent of customary land use and occupancy, and to the degree to which tangata whenua understood and interacted with the landscape. The knowledge and stories that have been passed on through generations keep ancestral connections with significant places strong.