The Transformation of Belonging

— more thoughts for the Ownership Conversation

by vivian Hutchinson

June 2021 35 min read download as Masterclass PDF

THE OWNERSHIP CONVERSATION doesn’t just invite us to consider a “switch in thinking” on our most difficult issues. It is also a conversation that delivers its own surprises when reconsidering the nature of ownership itself — especially that face of ownership that has to do with property and possession. 

For me, the Ownership Conversation has been a life-long dialogue that has challenged and transformed my understanding of the nature of belonging.

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ONE OF THE STRONGEST influences on my life as an active citizen has been Matarena Raumati Rau Kupa (1913-2010), the Taranaki kuia who was popularly known as Aunty Marj. I loved her, and we had an unusual friendship that stretched over four decades.

I first met Aunty Marj in my teenage years while I was still at High School. She had known my mother’s family during the 1930s and 1940s, and during the War they had worked together when the local Scottish cultural groups and Māori cultural groups had joined to do patriotic fundraising for the troops.

Aunty Marj was a great role-model for me of an active citizen who took a deeper level of ownership of whatever community issues she wanted to address. Her life was an everyday expression of rangatiratanga. She was determined not just to be “the author of her own experience”, but she was committed to keep on turning up – even to those places where she was not always welcome, or she would be the only Māori woman in the room.

As such, she became a living bridge between the majority European culture and the Māori communities that, for most of her life, had been actively marginalised in local civic affairs.

Aunty Marj and I were both involved in land rights campaigns while supporting Dame Whina Cooper and the Matakite movement that organised the Māori Land March of 1975. So we had plenty of opportunity to talk together about the concept of ownership as it related to land, and how this concept was seen very differently in a Māori world-view.

For Aunty Marj, ownership was not centrally a question of possession. It was more a question of the kaitiakitanga or stewardship of those places where you had a deeper sense of connection. The ownership of land brought with it responsibilities to the wider life of that place. To her, these responsibilities were not just to the present health and well-being of the land, but they also included an aliveness of the legacies of its past and how this land will be serving generations yet to come.

Aunty Marj argued that, in fighting for the return of Māori land, activists were in danger of accepting a coloniser’s view of property — and that, in her view, may end up becoming a greater loss.

She explained that the Māori world-view turns the usual life of property on its head. Over time, and as connections grow, instead of the land belonging to you ... you start to recognise that you belong to that place.

And when this happens to lots of people, the life we share and the communities we create are an expression of this wider sense of belonging. 

Matarena Raumati Rau Kupa (Aunty Marj) in the Brooklands Bush, New Plymouth, Taranaki. photo portrait by Margaret Bake (1981)

IT WAS AUNTY MARJ that coined the term “tū tangata whenua” to describe in te reo the concept of active citizenship. Her choice of these words reflected not just her perspective on citizenship, but also her view on the concepts of ownership and belonging.

Aunty Marj had a vision of “tangata whenua” that was not based on transactional ideas of ownership, or genealogies of blood, or the rights of “who came first”. For her, “tangata whenua” was not an identity, but a job description. It was a job description that included the responsibilities of honouring and taking care of what was not just a place, but a living being.

In the late 1970s, Aunty Marj and I were co-hosting a series of gatherings at Parihaka Marae which were introducing Pākehā people to the Māori world on their doorstep.

The gatherings featured presentations on local history, justice and cultural matters, as well as conversations about alternative lifestyles and different spiritual traditions.

The 1970s were the early days of an emerging world-wide environmental movement, and we also held workshops on pollution, waste management, organic gardening and alternative approaches to agriculture and horticulture.

At one of our evening circles, Aunty Marj was obviously frustrated with the proceedings. She suddenly stood up, and provocatively declared that Pākehā people will never solve their environmental problems until they have learnt how to become “tangata whenua”. 

She argued that a more personal and deeper understanding of the job description of “tangata whenua” would lead to a necessary transformation of what we mean by our active citizenship.

This deeper understanding comes from a transformation of your personal sense of belonging, and of home. The healing of our communities and our natural environment is built upon the re-weaving of ourselves as an integral part of these environments.

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AT THE TIME of the Parihaka Festivals, I was enthusiastically embarking on my own alternative lifestyle within what was generally described in the 1970s as the hippie movement. For a few years, I lived in a caravan amidst a small rural “intentional community” that was being established on 60 acres of land and native bush on the slopes of the Pouakai Ranges of Mount Taranaki.

This community was called Ka Tika Rā, after the nearby mountain stream, and it included several huts and houses built largely from car-crates and other recycled materials, and a community house in which we had our meetings, shared meals, and could accommodate visitors.

The hippie movement was a youth-led counter-culture that was popular in Europe and the United States, and flourished in New Zealand in the late 1970s, culminating with a series of huge summer music festivals like Nambassa in the Coromandel. It was essentially a reaction (or “counter”) to the post-war consumer society and nuclear families of the 1950s and 1960s.

The counter-culture shaped many of the curiosities, inquiries and naiveties of my own youth, and it was easy to get caught up in the sense that our own generation in the 1970s could be part of a positive and creative “new age” of possibilities.

In Taranaki, there was a loosely connected network of alternative lifestyles and friendships that were influenced by the hippie movement. Some of our local initiatives included not only the Ka Tika Rā Community and the regular festivals at Parihaka, but we also produced a seasonal newsletter called Foxglove, established a large organic training garden in New Plymouth for unemployed people, and hosted regular adult education evenings at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery.


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Right from the start, the Ka Tika Rā community members had to come to grips with the Ownership Conversation. This is because we were already the second group of people that were trying to establish an intentional community on that piece of land — and the first families were wanting to sell up and take their investments elsewhere.

So we worked out a financial scheme where those of us (who could) took out personal loans from a bank and pooled the funds in order to purchase the land. We were reimbursed from the rents paid by residents and visitors over the next several years.

At the same time, we decided to take the Ka Tika Rā land out of private ownership, and collectively invest it into a legal structure that had as its purpose

“... to care for the Earth and restore its sacred purpose of nurturing life for now and future generations.”

In line with Aunty Marj's challenge to Pākehā people that we would need to step up to the job description of “tangata whenua”, the name chosen for this new legal structure was “Taranaki People of the Land”. When the constitution was signed up, it was witnessed and endorsed by Aunty Marj and other elders from Parihaka. 


The people and families surrounding my time at Ka Tika Rā have continued to be some of the strongest friendships in my life even though our hippie days are now long over.

As for the community itself, there has been an ongoing turnover of residents, with all the conflicts, dramas, break-throughs and joys that come with any group of neighbours and friends — “intentional”, or not.

None of the original community members are still living on this particular piece of land. But most of us still have a heart-felt sense of connection to the place and to the mountain that was ever-present at our back-door.  Ka Tika Rā has proved to be a very significant part of our growing up as active citizens and as leaders and creatives now living in wider communities.

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GIVEN THE GENEROUS mentoring by Māori elders in my teenage years, and an early activism on land rights issues, I really have little excuse for a lack of curiosity about my own family history.

I am bewildered to look back now and realise that it wasn’t until my 40s that I started to dig into the details of where my own people had come from, why they came to New Zealand, and what they did when they first got here.

Amidst my passions to see justice over the theft of lands, or my embrace of an “alternative” lifestyle based on common ownership, or within my various creative contributions to solving problems in our communities ... I was totally unconscious as to how my own family histories had been woven into the problems and issues and lifestyles I was trying to address.

I can only conclude that I was the descendant of a forgetting, and I had very little understanding as to how this had been achieved. 

I eventually started to dig deeper and piece together the stories and legacies of my ancestors, and discovered that the forgetting was not an unusual characteristic of my fellow New Zealanders. It is a legacy of Empire.

Amnesia may well be one of the main organising principles of colonisation, and an important part of how power maintains its privileges across generations.

Amidst its own continuous histories of violence and oppression, forget-and-move-on had become such a deep mind-set of European culture. This mind-set can be both be a strategy for survivors of the abuse, and also a smokescreen for the victors and perpetrators. The vagueness just becomes another way of hiding from the consequences.

The forgetting also becomes another face of privilege. When Pākehā people do not to know our own histories, then we can avoid engaging with our own family participation in those events that have led to historical trauma. This collective amnesia means that the blood and dishonour and injustice in these histories simply becomes absorbed into the structural architecture of the next normal.

Awakening to our histories means interrupting the current stories that you may be telling yourself, and interrupting the privileges that come on the back of those stories.

This may also disrupt your current sense of identity — because you are being invited to take ownership of the things that many people in your community have been determined not to remember.

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MY FATHER'S FAMILY come from Northern Ireland and, in terms of the ownership story of land and property, theirs is a long history of being part of the machinery of dispossession.

The Hutchinsons were probably poor and protestant lowland Scottish farm workers who were “planted” in the Ulster province of Northern Ireland sometime during the 1550s to the 1620s. This displacement of the indigenous Catholic Irish, and the confiscation of their land, is one of the earliest acts of British colonisation.

The conflicts and trauma of this dispossession are still very much a part of the life of Irish communities today. Nevertheless, these Irish plantations (which were funded both by Crown and private interests) became a template for the global spread of the British Empire over the next few centuries.

If we skip forward nearly 300 years, the Hutchinson family were still poor tenant farmers in the Fermanagh County of Northern Ireland, barely surviving after the potato famines of the 1840s. My ancestor Robert Foster Hutchinson left his home to join the British Army and rose to the rank of sergeant in the 18th Royal Irish Regiment. This army was sent to New Zealand in 1863 as part of Governor Sir George Grey's plans to invade and confiscate the rich lands of the Waikato.

Veterans of the 18th Royal Irish Regiment, including Sergeant Robert Hutchinson, parade beside the statue of Queen Victoria in Albert Park, Auckland 1917 (Photo: Frank J.Denton)

Robert Hutchinson and the Irish regiment fought in many of the major battles of the Land Wars, under the command of General Duncan Cameron. This included being a participant in the atrocities of Rangiowhia, where an unfortified village of women, children and old men were attacked, and several people were burned alive in their homes. The 18th Royal Irish also fought at the siege of Ōrākau, the battleground made famous by the call of Rewi Maniapoto that he would not surrender.

In doing my research into this military history, you might imagine how I felt once I realised that I’d been walking through these same battlefields with Whina Cooper during the Māori Land March of 1975, while completely unaware of my own family connections to what had taken place.

My Hutchinson ancestor was also part of the military campaign in Taranaki that was controversially described as a “holocaust” after the release of a Waitangi Tribunal report in 1996. Under the Irish-born General Trevor Chute, the British troops engaged in a “scorched earth” campaign which destroyed seven fortified pā and 21 open villages around Taranaki mountain. The soldiers completed the devastation by stripping these communities of all they could get their hands on.

These same men were given a hero’s welcome into New Plymouth, which, by then, had become a settlement dominated by its military.

It is somewhat baffling to me that, only a hundred years later, I could grow up in a New Plymouth in the 1950s and 60s within a majority culture that had no real memory of these events. There were no stories within my own family of our participation in these acts of dispossession, and we were not taught any of the details of this history in our schools.

The fact that our communities, and our provincial farming wealth, was based on war and the confiscation of land was never a topic of conversation amongst those who were the inheritors of its privileges.

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MY MOTHER'S SIDE of the family were people who, in the 1850s, arrived in New Zealand as a result of a recent and violent experience of being dispossessed.

They were cleared from their lands in Scotland in what was not so much a decision of Empire, but a matter of business. And yet just as curiously, the details behind what had led to their migration to this country had also been lost to a culture of forget-and-move-on.

My mother’s family comes from the Scottish clan of McIntyre, who were part of a community of tenant crofters living on the island of Barra in the Scottish Western Isles. They were subsisting under a feudal system that had been held together over hundreds of years by war-lords and clan chiefs.

The Clearance of Barra was done on the instructions of a new owner of the island, Colonel John Gordon, of Cluny Castle in Aberdeen. This business entrepreneur was “the richest commoner” in Britain, and he had bought land on the Scottish mainland, and the outer islands of Benbecula, South Uist and Barra. He also owned six slave-based plantations in the Caribbean.

He gained a reputation as “the most hated man in Scotland” for his role in the clearing the crofting families and communities from his lands, and replacing them with sheep which would earn him much more money.

In one of the more infamous Clearances in 1851, the tenant farmers of Barra were called to a meeting to “discuss rents” and were threatened with a fine if they did not attend. In the meeting hall, over 1,500 tenants were overpowered, bound, and immediately loaded onto ships bound for Canada. One eyewitness reported that “people were seized and dragged on board. Men who resisted were felled with truncheons and handcuffed; those who escaped, including some who swam ashore from the ship, were chased by the police”.

At the time of these Clearances, the Gaelic bard Angus MacMhuirich composed a lament which referred to an earlier prophecy warning the people of the Western Isles that they would be replaced by sheep.  

The jaws of sheep have made the land rich,
But we were told by the prophecy
That sheep would scatter the warriors
And turn their homes into wilderness

The land of our love lies under bracken and heather,
every plain and every field is untilled,
and soon there will be none in the Mull of the Trees
but Lowlanders and their white sheep.

—  Angus MacMhuirich

Many of the Barra crofters did escape to Glasgow, including my own 3rd great-grand-parents Ranald and Mary McIntyre. But like so many other refugees expelled from “the land of their love”, they became paupers in the industrial city and ended their days in the Glasgow Poorhouse.

It was the children of these McIntyres who managed to emigrate to New Zealand. For them it was not so much a choice as it was a matter of survival. The indigenous crofters of the Western Isles had been forced to leave their only home — where their ancestors had lived for perhaps hundreds of years — because they had no land rights.

They were living under a feudal system where their precarious tenancy had long been stitched into their identity. And there was little opportunity for them to imagine any other framework of ownership and possession of their land, or how to achieve it.

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DURING THE FIRST HALF of the 19th century, the British Empire was trying to come to terms with reimagining the ownership and possession of something else entirely: human beings. So much of the wealth of the Empire and its commercial companies was based on the slave trade, and there had been a long process of campaigning and social change that had led to the passing of the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833.

What is not generally known is that with the passing of this Act, the slave owners were fully compensated by the British government for the loss of their property rights. They were paid for the value of the slaves that were being freed, roughly £20 million (or about £2 billion today). No such compensation or reparation was considered for the slaves themselves.

This compensation money had a huge impact on Britain at the time as the beneficiaries of slavery made extensive purchases of land and estates throughout the nation.

Of course, these payments were also made to Colonel John Gordon, of Cluny Castle, who was given the equivalent of £2.9 million as compensation for the more than 1,300 slaves on his plantations in the Caribbean. In 2020, researchers at Coventry University and the University of Glasgow concluded that Gordon had used his compensation money to pay for the Scottish islands of Benbecula, South Uist and Barra, from which he later evicted nearly 3,000 people. 

So a perverse result of the 1833 Slavery Abolition Act, and bringing to an end the morally-hazardous concept of the “ownership” of people ... was that it directly led to the 1851 dispossession of my ancestors on Barra, because they had no rights within the equally-hazardous concept of the “ownership” of land.

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I DO FEEL HOPEFUL that a reimagining of the ownership of land in New Zealand has the potential to transform our communities into places that will look and feel very different from how they are today. In many ways, our challenge here is very similar to the long power struggle to end slavery and reimagine the idea that people can be owned.

Out beyond our colonised mental concepts of what we currently mean by the “ownership” of land, there are many indications that this reimagining has already started to happen.

Te Urewera (photo Wikipedia Commons)

Tāmati Kruger is an iwi leader of the Tūhoe people, and he was the chief negotiator of the 2013 tribal settlement over the Crown breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi.

As far as this settlement is concerned, Kruger observes that there is an important distinction between justice and redress. He also warns that we shouldn't under-estimate the coloniser's capacity for forgetting.

In a 2018 interview for the web-magazine e-tangata, Tāmati Kruger argues that the Waitangi settlement process only delivers some redress, and Māori need to give up on the expectation that going into negotiations with the Crown will deliver justice for all the wrongs that have been done.

“ Iwi should never have that expectation. History shows that the Crown specialises in injustice. It arises from the fact that the Crown has a faulty memory. It can't remember what it promises.” — Tāmati Kruger

While the Tūhoe people have negotiated and accepted a settlement, Kruger has no illusions about the real work ahead. He believes that it may take two or three generations for his iwi to reconstitute an authentic kinship with their land. And in order to do so, he says that Tūhoe will need to fight the concept of “ownership” and the way this attitude infiltrates all our thinking.

Tāmati Kruger explains that the terms “mana whenua” and “tangata whenua” have nothing to do with ownership:

“ Mana whenua has to do with acknowledging that the land has mana, and fulfilling your obligations and your kinship relationship with the land. That’s what it is — not an ownership or property relationship. It’s you saying: “I think I kind of look like the land, and my language and my poetry and my literature and my cuisine and how I live comes from that. I am an expression of the land, and without it I will become blank. The further away I am from the land in my kinship, in my caring and my connection, the smaller I will become, until I am nothing. So I must keep that connection.”

Kruger has a vision for our nation where all of us, regardless of blood and heritage, can come to understand that we are tangata whenua.

 “ I see a time in Aotearoa when there are no Europeans or New Zealanders living here, only tangata whenua. And that means that we are of this land, that this land has made us who we are. We have let this land create us in its image, and together we are proud of who we are and where we come from.” – Tāmati Kruger

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KENNEDY WARNE IS the journalist who interviewed Tāmati Kruger for the 2018 e-tangata article. He is a former editor of the New Zealand Geographic and a frequent commentator on environmental issues for Radio New Zealand. And he has been on his own journey of awakening as to what it means to be tangata whenua.

Also writing in e-tangata, Kennedy Warne quotes the poem “The Gift Outright”, by the American poet Robert Frost. It begins with the lines:

The land was ours before we were the land’s.
She was our land more than a hundred years
Before we were her people. — Robert Frost

Kennedy Warne says the poem is about “an invitation to belonging and a reminder of the desolation that follows when land is seen as properties to be owned and not places to be loved”. While the poem is about the history of the United States, it could also be describing the history of New Zealand.

“It is the history of every settler nation. First the desire to possess, to own, to call the land “ours”. Then, later, a long time later – and for some, perhaps, never – the awareness of a need to belong, the impetus to preserve and respect. A turning away from objectification and towards subjective engagement, from resource to relationship, from land-as-commodity to land-as-identity, from foreign soil to whenua.” – Kennedy Warne

Who is invited to make this journey of belonging? We all are. 

And it is an invitation that can come at the most unexpected times. Allen Curnow, one of New Zealand’s leading poets, may well have glimpsed such an invitation as he was looking at the skeleton of a Great Moa in the Christchurch Museum:

Not I, some child, born in a marvellous year,
Will learn the trick of standing upright here.
— Allen Curnow

Kennedy Warne offers the view that the process of belonging takes place “one step at a time” as we engage with the places of our lives. Belonging comes through knowing a place, and letting the place know you. He describes this as a “conversation with landscape”. 

My own understanding is that we descendants of settlers can only enter into this conversation because the seeds of a deeper relationship with the land are already there — albeit hidden under many generations of marginalisation and forgetting.

The seeds are already there because this relationship with the earth comes built-in as part of our wholeness as human beings.

They are already there because we can still hear the names of these seeds hidden within the languages of our own elders.

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WHEN MY McINTYRE ANCESTORS first arrived in New Zealand in the 1850s, they were Gaelic speakers — it was then the primary tongue of the communities of the Western Isles. Gaelic is the language of that land. It is also a language that reaches back before the time that mental concepts such as “ownership” were forcibly redefined at the beginnings of the feudal age.

Not unlike the Māori language, Gaelic has words for many concepts that have no real equivalent in the modern English tongue. Take the word “dùthchas”, which is a Gaelic term that was widely used in Scotland before the Clearances. It has no succinct English translation, but it describes a principle of interconnectedness between people, the land, and all living creatures.

The author Madeleine Bunting was digging into the origins of this word while writing her book The Love of Country - A Hebridean Journey (2017). She describes how — compared to English — the Gaelic language provides a language of “resistance to modern capitalism”, and is “inherently counter-cultural”. The language offers a definite challenge to such concepts as the notion of private property: 

“ On the Isle of Lewis, I was told that [the word “dùthchas”] means much more. It’s a collective claim on the land which is reinforced and lived out through the shared management of that land. It is a right which is grounded in daily habits and activities and it is bound up with relationships to others, and responsibilities. It gives rise to the idea, identified by the scholar Michael Newton, that “people belong to places rather than places belonging to people”. Gaelic turns notions of ownership on their head.”  — Madeleine Bunting

In her research, Madeleine Bunting also decided to turn her attention to English words to see if they might contain the seeds of an older world-view that has largely been forgotten in their modern use.

“ I looked up “belonging” in an English dictionary; tellingly, the first definition was a matter of property as in “belongings”. The next definition was status as in “having the right personal and social qualities to be a member of a particular group”. A very English concept. But dig deeper and the word originates in the Old English term “gelang”, which means “at hand, together with”. Buried in the etymology of the word is an understanding of touch, physical closeness and how that generates solidarity.” — Madeleine Bunting

This attention to language may be much more important than we usually give it credit for. Peter Block, in his book Community, asserts that all transformation is linguistic. This is why so much of his leadership and consulting work has been focused on improving community conversations, and creating those spaces where there can be a shift in speaking and listening.

We are starting to see such a shift happen as much older, and sometimes ancient, frameworks of community life are beginning to reassert themselves within the modern nation of Scotland. The reclaiming of “dùthchas” in contemporary Scottish affairs — with its deeper ecological understanding of place and belonging — has already started to redraw the map of ownership in the Scottish Highlands and Islands. 

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IN MAY 2000, the Scottish Parliament unanimously passed a bill that, after nine hundred years, abolished feudal tenure. At the same time, an £11 million fund was created to assist community buy-outs of tenanted land.

The Scottish land rights campaigner, Alistair McIntosh, reports that the legislation aims to redress the inequitable ownership pattern left behind by feudalism. It offers crofting communities an automatic right to buy their land at any time based on a government valuation. A more limited provision for other rural communities gives rights of pre-emptive purchase if and when land is put on the market.

Alistair McIntosh has been at the forefront of the campaigns to put the Isle of Eigg into community land ownership, and to assert traditional land rights on the Isle of Harris while stopping a local mountain from being turned into “the gravel pit of Europe” by a multi-national road-stone company. Both these successful campaigns are outlined in his book, Soil and Soul (2004).  

The Community Flag of Barra, in the Scottish Western Isles

These land rights reforms have reached as far as the Isle of Barra. Unlike elsewhere in Scotland, where community land trusts have been diligently raising money and working with the government to be able to buy their land from the (often absentee) owners, the Barra landlords have surprisingly been very willing to hand it over. 

The traditional owners of Barra had long been Clan MacNeil, who were said to have lived on the isle for nearly 1,000 years, until it was sold in 1838 and the Clearances began. But in 1937, most of Barra was bought back by Robert Lister MacNeil, an American descendant of the original clan chiefs.

In 2003, his son, Ian Roderick MacNeil, announced that nearly all his family land on Barra — including the foreshore and fishing and mineral rights — would be gifted to the Scottish Executive, with the intention of it eventually being handed over to the Barra community free of charge.

The Scottish Executive is a partially-devolved form of government which was established in 1999 following a referendum on independence. The Scottish Parliament has been determined to encourage a fundamental change in the nature of land rights, and to shift all croft land (which accounts for more than three-quarters of the Western Isles) into community or public ownership.

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WHEN THE CONCEPT of ownership is turned on its head, so too is the political geography of land rights. Once we regain a genuine relationship of interconnectedness with the Life of our place, we can also begin to understand that the land itself has rights.

In December 2017, it was announced that our local mountain, Taranaki, would be recognised as its own legal personhood. This means that in legal terms it would be owned by no one but, in practical reality, it owns itself.

Under the agreement between the government and the eight iwi of Taranaki, all of the Crown-owned land within the former Egmont National Park is vested in this new legal identity, and the job of stewardship or kaitiakitanga of the mounga is shared between local Māori and the government.

This is not an act of obscure judicial symbolism buried in the long-overdue settlements that have followed Treaty of Waitangi tribunals. It recognises the existing tikanga and mātauranga of the iwi who have long acted as kaitiaki of these places. It also reflects an international “switch in thinking” about care for the environment, and the legal rights of nature.

By recognising Taranaki mounga as having the same rights and powers as a citizen, it sets a whole new benchmark of empowerment for nature on its own terms. It crosses the line of thinking about ownership and who’s in charge. As the former Māori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples has said, “... it is a profound alternative to the human presumption of sovereignty over the natural world.”


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This change in the legal status of Taranaki mounga is similar to the legal status already established for the Te Urewera homeland of the Tūhoe people in 2014, and for the Whanganui River and its tributaries, collectively known as Te Awa Tupua, in 2017. As in Taranaki, these changes were also negotiated as part of Treaty of Waitangi settlements.

Kennedy Warne describes the passing of these statutes as among the most significant geographical events of our time. The establishment of legal personhood for these sacred areas of our nation is being watched intently from around the world, and similar initiatives are being tried elsewhere.

At the announcement of the creation of a legal identity for the Whanganui River, the lead iwi negotiator Gerrard Albert told the Guardian newspaper that these measures would ensure that the river was treated as a living entity, rather than viewing it from a perspective of ownership and management.

“ We can trace our genealogy to the origins of the universe.  Therefore, rather than us being masters of the natural world, we are part of it. We want to live like that as our starting point. And that is not an anti-development, or anti-economic use of the river, but to begin with the view that it is a living being, and then consider its future from that central belief.” — Gerrard Albert

Former Prime Minister Jim Bolger grew up in a Taranaki farming district close to Parihaka marae. But he concedes that his upbringing and schooling had not taught him of the unique history of this peaceful community and its prophetic leaders. He is also the descendant of a forgetting.

In more recent years, Jim Bolger has worked closely with Tāmati Kruger and the Tūhoe Board, and he has become an important advocate of the “switch in thinking” behind the concept that a significant place can have it's own legal identity, and “own itself”.

“This whole idea that the Urewera owns itself is a concept that looked totally radical and off-the-wall. Unlike the Pākehā view that everybody owns something. But we discuss the issue of the land having been there forever. So it owns itself. And our responsibility is a version of kaitiaki. [...] In a sense, it’s a matter of being humble in the face of its greatness. These are totally new concepts. In one way, I can see them fitting in quite easily to the whole environmental movement worldwide. It’s just that the human population hasn’t been respectful enough to the land, the water and the atmosphere. We’ve always just presumed it was always there, forever, and it was unlimited. In the colonial mindset, the land was unlimited. Now we all know land is limited and already severely damaged. So we have a responsibility to care for it. We have to manage things differently. We have to change.” — Jim Bolger

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In 2017, the Tūhoe Board published a statement of its priorities and direction, called Te Kawa o Te Urewera. This document is much more than a new management plan for the resources of the former Te Urewera National Park. It is a uniquely indigenous call for resolving the relationship between humans and nature. It shows that, deliberatively, the Tūhoe people are choosing to “reset” their human relationship and behaviour towards nature.

“ Our disconnection from Te Urewera has changed our humanness. We wish for its return.”

The final page of Te Kawa o Te Urewera perhaps points to the universality of this need for a transformation of belonging, and a healing between people and the only planet to which we all belong. The document ends with lines from an American-English poet:

We shall not cease
from exploration,
and the end of all our
exploring will be to
arrive where we started
and know the place
for the first time.  

   T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets 


Notes and Links

vivian Hutchinson QSM is a community activist and social entrepreneur who has worked mainly on issues of race relations, social justice, job creation and philanthropy. He is a co-founder of Community Taranaki, and author of How Communities Heal — stories of social innovation and social change (2012). He is also one of the creators of How Communities Awaken - Tū Tangata Whenua - a Masterclass for Active Citizenship which is run in partnership with Tu Tama Wahine o Taranaki

First published online in June 2021. revised 18 June 2021. 

This paper The Transformation of Belonging is part of a larger series of essays by vivian Hutchinson entitled How Communities Awaken. For more information, visit

Tū Tama Wahine o Taranaki and Community Taranaki were awarded the ACE (Adult and Community Education Aotearoa) 2020 Award for Community Programme of the Year for the Masterclass for Active Citizenship. For more information, visit

Kuia Matarena Raumati Rau Kupa - Aunty Marj. For more on her life and service see vivian Hutchinson - Kuia Matarena (1913-2010) at

Photopage: Matarena — MATARENA RAUMATI RAU KUPA MBE (1913-2010) Aunty Marj — (top) Taranaki Kuia at Owae Marae, Waitara, photographed during the ECO (Environmental and Conservation Organisations of Aotearoa New Zealand) Conference 11th August 1985. This was the first ECO Conference held on a marae. (left to right) Ina Okeroa, Mary Matewehi Turner, Ivy Werenia Papakura, Mimosa Jury, Sally Mana Te Noki Karena, Neta Wharehoka, and (front) Matarena Raumati Rau Kupa (Aunty Marj) photo by Philip Simpson. (middle left) at the Tangi of Whina Cooper at Panguru, Hokianga, March 1994 (left to right) Steve Tollestrup, kuia Matarena Raumati Rau Kupa (Aunty Marj), vivian Hutchinson and Tony Hansen. DVD cover of Parihaka - A Photographic Survey (1981) a 30-min slide-show documentary on the history of Parihaka, compiled by vivian Hutchinson and Matarena Raumati Rau Kupa for the Taranaki Museum for the centennial commemorations of the sacking of Parihaka on 5th November 1881. 2013 a digital restoration of the documentary was re-released to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kuia Matarena (Aunty Marj). (middle right) kuia Matarena Raumati Rau Kupa (Aunty Marj) photographed at Te Rewa Rewa Pa, near the site of the present-day Te Rewa Rewa Bridge over the Waiwakaiho river on the New Plymouth foreshore walkway. photo by the Taranaki Daily News (bottom) Aunt Marj with friends in Te Niho o Te Atiawa meeting house, Parihaka Marae, Taranaki (1977) (left to right) Pat Brophy, Wai Uatuku, Alwyn Owen, Te Miringa Hohaia, Katerina Hohaia, Ngahina Hohaia, Dr Huirangi Waikerepuru, vivian Hutchinson, Aunty Marj Raumati Rau, and Hilary Baxter. photo vivian Hutchinson

Maunga or Mounga ... in the dialect of Taranaki iwi, the word for mountain is more often pronounced Mounga, rather than Maunga. Both pronounciations and spelling are used to refer to the mountain.

Ka Tika Rā ... See The Katikara Community Experience (2014) compiled by Sue Carter and published by the Taranaki People of the Land Inc. Society For more see “Sue Carter compiles stories from Taranaki's eco-community Katikara” by Yvette Batten Taranaki Daily News 27 August 2015

Photopage: Katikarā — KA TIKA RĀ COMMUNITY and the FOXGLOVE GROUP — (top left) The Community House at Ka Tika Rā Community on the Pouakai Ranges of Taranaki Mounga, early 1980s (top right) aerial view of the Ka Tika Rā Community on the Pouakai Ranges (middle) working bee in the Ka Tika Rā community gardens (l to r) Joy Minthorn, Rhyll Stafford, James (Chip) Dale, Ray Edward, Dieter Meier, and Daniel Joblin. Photos by Graham Brown. (middle right) participants at the Spring Equinox Festival 1981, North Egmont Camphouse, Taranaki Mounga. (bottom right) kuia Matarena Raumati Rau Kupa (Aunty Marj) answering questions on Taranaki history during the Autumn Equinox Festival 1983, Te Niho o te Atiawa, Parihaka Pa (bottom left) Foxglove, a Taranaki People's Newsletter, produced every few months (from 1978 - 1986) with the aim of fostering friendship amongst people living under the mountain. Contributions came from the readers, and the letter was edited by the Foxglove Group which shared the responsibilities of typing, layout, production and distribution.

Parihaka Earth Festivals ... see Album - The Parihaka Earth Festivals 1978-1984 compiled (2018) by vivian Hutchinson A Facebook album is at

for more on the forgetting, see “The Anniversaries of Our Amnesia” by vivian Hutchinson, e-tangata 8th March 2020

Scottish land rights ... see “A Common Right: Scotland” film by the international Land Rights Now campaign

Angus MacMhuirich lived on the Isle of Mull and was a member of Clan Ranald's prestigious MacMhuirich bardic family. “Jaws of Sheep” is quoted from The Highland Clearances (1969) by John Prebble

“The Jaws of Sheep: The 1851 Hebridean Clearances of Gordon of Cluny” by James A. Stewart, Jr. in the Proceedings of the Harvard Celtic Colloquium Vol. 18/19 (1998/1999)

“How Profits From Slavery Changed the Landscape of the Scottish Highlands” by Nora McGreevy, Smithsonian Magazine, 17th November 2020

Allen Curnow “The Skeleton of the Great Moa in the Canterbury Museum, Christchurch”, as published in O’Sullivan, V. (Ed.). (1979). An anthology of twentieth century New Zealand poetry. Wellington: Oxford University Press. The poem is also the source of the name of Don McGlashan's 2009 album Marvellous Year.

The Love of Country - A Hebridean Journey (2017) by Madeleine Bunting

“The language of resistance: Gaelic's role in community fight-back against corporate greed” by Madeleine Bunting The Herald 25th September 2016

“Down that way, glory waits” Tāmati Kruger interview with Kennedy Warne, e-tangata website, 9 September 2018

“Listening to the People of the Land” by Kennedy Warne, e-tangata website 24 March 2019. This is a chapter of the 2019 book Listening to the People of the Land: Christianity, Colonisation and the Path to Redemption (Accent Publications)

Robert Frost, “The Gift Outright” (1923) from The Poetry of Robert Frost, edited by Edward Connery Lathem.

Soil and Soul: People versus Corporate Power (2004) by Alastair McIntosh, published by Aurum Press

“Clan chief gives his lands to the people Historic day for crofters as Macneil hands over 9000 acres on Barra” by The Herald (Glasgow) 6th September 2003

Photopage: Taranaki — TARANAKI MOUNGA — photographs by vivian Hutchinson

“A Landmark Day for Taranaki Maunga” statement by Hon Andrew Little, Minister of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations 20 December 2017, “Iwi closer to having Taranaki Maunga become a legal person”, by Te Aniwa Hurihanganui, Te Manu Korihi Radio NZ 21 December 2017

“New Zealand river granted same legal rights as human being” by Eleanor Ainge Roy, The Guardian 16th March 2017

“Place as person, landscape as identity: ancestral connection and modern legislation” by Kennedy Warne, Auckland University School of Environment Cumberland Lecture 2019, delivered 22nd August 2019

“Jim Bolger: Maybe the Urewera owns itself” by Wena Harawira, e-tangata web magazine 30 April 2016; “Jim Bolger and Tamati Kruger in conversation” at the Wellington City Art Gallery 20 August 2017 (audio) Radio New Zealand

Te Kawa o Te Urewera ... see press release from Te Urewera Board 19 May 2017
The document can be read at and see also Te Ohu 4-day live-in gathering (2018) at

ISBN 978-1-92-717637-5 This paper is licensed for distribution under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License