Knowledge Empowers Utakura 7 Incorporation to Realise Whenua Aspirations

In the lush ngahere of the Utakura Valley, south of Hokianga, lies around 1639 hectares of whenua Māori, managed by the Utakura 7 Incorporation, established in 1968. The Incorporation Committee of Management is working hard to realise the economic, cultural, and environmental aspirations for the whenua.

Published: Thursday, 5 May 2022 | Rāpare, 05 Haratua, 2022

Establishing an economic base to realise the aspirations of the Incorporation was a priority. As part of this, in 1972 the Incorporation signed a forestry lease for a term of 60 years to partake in a forestry scheme offered by the New Zealand government.

Throughout the lease period, the Committee has struggled to achieve the partnership relationship they believe their tūpuna entered initially upon signing the lease. When the current Committee was required to enter into lease extension negotiations, their priority was to get clarity around the issues that were causing continuous barriers to equitable, effective negotiation.

“We needed a good understanding of forestry, how to get the financial information we needed, and to confirm our legal status, rights and obligations” says Tamalene Painting (Ngā Puhi), Chair of the Incorporation.

Having previously received funding from Te Puni Kōkiri through the Māori Development and Provincial Growth funds to carry out a feasibility study on their whenua in 2019, the Incorporation approached Te Puni Kōkiri for funding, through the Whenua Māori Fund.

“The funding we received from Te Puni Kōkiri immediately removed the cost barrier for us to engage the people we needed. We have had the benefit of the best legal and forestry advice available to guide and inform us.”

With the partnership relationship confirmed by their legal advisors, the Committee moved forward feeling assured in their position, with a partnership mindset and more clarity about what needed to be done to ensure better outcomes for future generations.

The Committee also engaged the services of Whenua Oho, whose expertise in forestry meant the Incorporation were able to gather and understand information crucial to their negotiation strategy.

Armed with knowledge and confidence, the Committee was able to negotiate with the leaseholder, with emphasis on their aspirations for the whenua and creating a partnership that benefited both parties. This confidence, in part, stems from support the Incorporation has received from Te Puni Kōkiri.

“This has been an encouraging and empowering process for us. We moved from being reliant on consultants and lawyers, to being able to take the lead in our lease negotiations, confident in our legal status and with all the information required to make good decisions on behalf of our shareholders and whānau,” says Tamalene.

“Our relationship with Te Puni Kōkiri is about them having the confidence in our ability to deliver. We know what we can do now, and we will continue to build. Knowing that we can rely on Te Puni Kōkiri gives us the courage to consider alternatives and options for land use for the benefit and betterment of our shareholders and community,” says Tamalene.

Looking to the future, the Incorporation envisions the whenua being a place for whānau to live, earn income, provide employment opportunities and pursue recreational activities.

“We need to restore the mauri of our whenua, part of this is providing opportunities for our whānau to live on the whenua and also thinking about how we weave physical, cultural and spiritual wellness into our plan for the use of our whenua,” says Tamalene.