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From the early days attending hui held at Te Whare Aroha at Parihaka to the establishment of the Iwi office overlooking Port Taranaki, the Taranaki Iwi journey has been an integral part of former Chairman of Taranaki Iwi Trust Tokatumoana Walden’s life for the past 21 years.
Toka moved back to Taranaki in 1996 after a number of years working in Māori immersion education based in Otaki. When he returned he took up an education contract with Te Puni Kōkiri in New Plymouth which developed into a regional director role that he would stay in for eight years. At the same time Toka was approached by Te Miringa Hohaia about getting involved with the iwi and to take part in the work on the Treaty claim for Taranaki Iwi.
“When I got involved back in 1996, we had the Taranaki Iwi Working Party, which wasn’t really a formal body at that time. We were based out of Te Whare Aroha at Parihaka, the little house by the dining room. It was a small group working on the settlement back then, Mahara, Te Miringa, Aunty Freda and George Tito. I just happened to fall into the group.”
“After about a year or so I took over driving the group. Mereana Hond was there too, and she was good. We were all in it together working through the process of the Treaty settlement.”
The Taranaki Iwi journey to settlement would take on a number of different shapes and forms over the coming years which included a number of changes to the way the group leading the Treaty claim would be structured.
After receiving legal advice about the structure of the Taranaki Iwi Working Party the group decided to become an incorporated society and Te Rūnanga o Taranaki Iwi Incorporated was established in 1999. The Rūnanga was based out of the Pungarehu Post Office and was the home base for the group until the Taranaki Iwi Trust was formed as the Mandated Iwi Organisation in 2006 as a result of the passing of the Māori Fisheries Act in 2004.
Image: Toka (as Taranaki Iwi Trust Chairman) speaking at the signing of the Taranaki Iwi Deed of Settlement at Pukeiti in 2015.
The Taranaki Iwi Trust was tasked with progressing the Taranaki Iwi Treaty Claim which after over ten years reached a significant milestone with the signing of the Deed of Settlement in 2015. Toka says that the signing of the Deed was a highlight of his time as Chair.
“One of the proudest moments for me and I think for Taranaki Iwi was the signing of the Deed of Settlement at Pukeiti, that was huge.”
“It consolidated all of the hard years we put in, not only the living, but those who had passed on as well. It allowed for us to bring to a conclusion something that we had all strived for, to reach a Treaty settlement with the Crown.”
“That was quite an emotional moment and to have it at Pukeiti, at such a special place, that was a really special moment for me.”
Another special highlight was He Puanga Haeata, the reconciliation ceremony held between the Crown and Parihaka Papakainga, which took place at Toroānui on 9 June 2017. Toka says that Taranaki Iwi should be proud of the support they showed toward the whānau of Parihaka in reaching the significant and momentous milestone.
“Another big highlight for me was around Parihaka. I don’t want to under emphasise that.”
“It was huge for the Taranaki Iwi settlement, and it’s something that Taranaki Iwi should be proud of – providing the opportunity for Parihaka to then have their opportunity to get reconciliation with the Crown.
“The settlement was an avenue where we could utilise our opportunity to support Parihaka in getting in front of the Crown, and even when the challenges came in from our own about delays around Parihaka, we all stayed in agreement to pursue the settlement for Parihaka, and at no stage did we waiver from that.”
“I’m very proud of that and proud for Parihaka. The relationship we have with Parihaka is unique, but also special for us and I think should be maintained as Te Kāhui o Taranaki Iwi progresses into the future.”
As part of the signing of the Deed of Settlement between Taranaki Iwi and the Crown, the Te Kāhui o Taranaki Trust was established as the Post Settlement Governance entity tasked with the administration and management of the redress and resources provided in the Treaty settlement.
Toka feels that with Te Kāhui o Taranaki Trust in place the foundations have been set now for Taranaki Iwi to move in any direction it chooses and hopes to see changes as the Iwi continues to grow and move forward.
“I hope to see things change, perhaps see different things happen now. I don’t want to see our people, our hapū or marae remain in the same place they are today in five years time, because if changes aren’t taking place and progress isn’t being made then why would we continue putting resources there?”
“I think it’s important for us to see progress being made among our people because if we see that and when things start to change out there, our people become empowered.”
Image: (from left) Mahara Okeroa, Toka, Christopher Finlayson (then Minister of Treaty Negotiations) initialing the Treaty settlement at Puke Ariki in 2015.
As Toka moves on from his direct involvement with Taranaki Iwi he reflects on his time with the Iwi and recognises the changes that are there on the horizon. And although he is immensely proud of the achievements that the Iwi have made, he is reminded of the sacrifice it took and the impact it had on his whānau.
“I’m so proud of Taranaki Iwi. Moving on for me is definitely the right decision for where Taranaki Iwi is at. The paradigm has changed now and it just made sense to bring in new leadership.”
“I was burnt out on reflection, and I’m realising how much time I gave to the iwi. Now I’m able to do things that I wasn’t able to do given my time commitments and obligations I held as the Chair.”
“Just late last year, after I had moved on from the Chairperson’s role, I managed to get to Tauranga to watch my son play representative rugby. If I was still in the role there would be an obligation to attend Taranaki Tū Mai, which was on that same weekend, and I would’ve missed my son’s game.”
Toka acknowledges how important and precious having time for himself is now and his whānau have definitely noticed the change.
“My family comes first now, and I’ve never done that in the past. My wife has noticed a change which is good. I want to do things for me because I’ve always done things for other people. Now’s the time where I focus on me and my whānau, see where that goes, but I’ll always be here for Taranaki Iwi.
A mihi was held for Toka at the Taranaki Iwi Annual General Meeting 2017 where he was presented with a hieke (raincape) as a token of appreciation for all of the hard work and countless hours he gave to Taranaki Iwi.