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Iwi in flux

Defining and establishing boundaries between hapū and iwi is difficult due to the dynamic nature of these groupings. This chapter explores the complexity of defining ‘iwi’, and implications for emerging groups seeking autonomy.

Throughout history tribes have been fluid entities, frequently adapting to environmental and population changes, and naturally multiplying and dividing over time (Ballara, 1998). These continual changes to group size, structure, and location prevent the definition of clear boundaries among tribes and subtribes. A hapū might feel their perceived status of hapū no longer reflects the nature of their group and advocate to have evolved into an independent iwi. The same applies to iwi that have relocated from their original settlement and now feel they have formed a separate iwi in the new settlement.

In the process of identity development and defining one’s boundaries people or groups have to go through a process of identifying just what it is that makes them unique. Boundary maintenance is thus a process that the collective goes through in order to redefine or change the criteria which serve to distinguish its members from others. The group will set the guidelines for inclusion and exclusion. (O’Regan, 2001, p39).

The process of evolution and separation of groups and of defining group boundaries is often a political one, influenced by dealings with the Crown and the Crown’s terms.

If, over time, hapū within Kai Tahu become fractionalised and seek their own distinctive autonomy divorced from their tribal identity then that change will have to be dealt with. For the present however, Kai Tahu has articulated its desire to be dealt with and represented on a tribal level. Tipene O’Regan emphasises the importance of maintaining the cohesiveness of the tribe to avoid the fragmentation of the tribal capital and assets. If a tribe as a collective can maintain its economic wealth, then that will in turn provide an incentive to belong, contribute, participate and cohere. (O’Regan, 2001, p169).

Katene (2006) presents the example of Ngāti Tama, a small iwi that reunified in 2002 despite tensions with other iwi and Mäori groups in the area. Ngāti Tama descendants wanted their own autonomy and control over affairs and resisted becoming part of a larger collective.

It was important for the newly established group to firstly gain support from those whanau and individuals with whakapapa links to Ngāti Tama tupuna who had lived in Te Whanganui-a-Tara from the 1820s. Next, support had to be sought from other groups, especially the two other recognised Ngāti Tama iwi (Taranaki and South Island) and the local iwi of Ngāti Toa that had close historical associations with Ngāti Tama through shared whakapapa and other connections. Achieving the support of Te Atiawa was considered a distant prospect. (Katene, 2006, p142).

Subsequently, a hui was held with the trustees of Ngāti Tama Iwi Development Trust in New Plymouth on 23 August, 2002. The purpose of the hui was to seek endorsement for Ngāti Tama ki ti Upoko o te Ika in Wellington. Trust agreed to endorse and support the establishment of the society as the representative and manager of the affairs and interests of the descendants of Ngäti Tama people who owned lands in the Wellington region. Most importantly, the Trust did not recognise or support any other group that claimed to represent Ngāti Tama interests in Wellington region. (Katene, 2006, p143).

Claims were made that Ngāti Tama was a hapū of Te Atiawa and not a separate tribe. Those remarks served no useful purpose and demonstrated Te Atiawa’s interest in not wanting to change the status quo and in preventing a ‘ginger group’ from being set up in competition to it. (Katene, 2006, p172).

The example of Ngāti Tama demonstrates the complexity of establishing a new and unique iwi group. Complications arise when the established iwi has already formed recognised links with the Crown and claims to still represent the newly emerging iwi.

Tribes constantly undergo changing circumstances. Tensions arise when other Māori organisations, especially those that owe their origins to Crown decisions, attempt to assert authority, or when individuals must retrace the steps of their forbearers [sic] in order to reconnect with whanau, hapū and iwi. Tribal identity in a complex and modern urban setting is exposed to various demographic, political, economic and commercial imperatives. The example of Ngāti Tama provides an illustration of an iwi seeking to know who it is, what it wants, where it is going, what resources it requires, and how to overcome resistance in all its guises. The Crown, keen to retain its established networks and relationships in which it may have invested heavily over a period of time, may not be inclined to develop a new relationship – especially if it were not in the interest of a favoured group that opposed the re-emergence of that new entity. (Katene, 2006, pp22–23).

It appears that a strong traditional tribe does not commonly welcome a hapū wanting to separate and become an independent iwi. In consequence, an emerging iwi seeking to legitimise its autonomous position faces resistance from certain groups within the original iwi or from its allies. As a result of this complex environment, in which new emerging iwi are separating from larger iwi or hapū are transforming into iwi, numerous agencies provide lists of hapū and iwi that are widely inconsistent. These lists are also difficult to align into an agreed list of iwi and hapū.

Katene (2006), writing about Ngäti Tama, claims:

Today, three autonomous Ngāti Tama iwi entities exist: one in Taranaki, another in the South Island, and Ngāti Tama ki te Upoko o te Ika in Wellington. While the three iwi collaborate as much as practicable through shared waka traditions and genealogical links, each is responsible for its own affairs including inter-iwi relationships within each rohe, Crown liaison, economic advancement, socio-cultural development, and claim management. (Katene, 2006, p132).

The iwi distribution described above is reflected in the Statistics NZ standard classification of iwi (Statistics NZ, 2009). However, the Te Puni Kōkiri website has Ngāti Tama ki Te Tau Ihu in the Golden Bay region and Ngāti Tama in Taranaki, but no Ngāti Tama in Wellington region, while the ‘mother iwi’ Taranaki Whanui ki te Upoko o te Ika features on the website in the Wellington region.

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