Politics | Ruapehu

Government considering new marae and cultural hub in Ruapehu after ‘flawed’ engagement with iwi

Government documents confirm "dissatisfaction" from iwi with the Crown's engagement regarding the maunga. Photo / Bevan Conley

The previous government sent an apology to iwi groups representing the Ruapehu district last year, after a “flawed” engagement process with iwi took place around the skifield.

A year later, documents released under the Official Information Act by departmental agency Te Arawhiti, the Office for Māori Crown Relations, reveals not much has materially changed since previous ministers said sorry.

The Herald can reveal the government is considering a “reconciliation package” for hapū Patutokotoko, after the group raised red flags about the commercialisation of the Tūroa family name on Mount Ruapehu.

Company Pure Tūroa has officially taken over assets on the Tūroa side of the skifield for this year’s season.

Documents from Te Arawhiti state Patutokotoko has “consistently raised concerns” about the commercial use of the name Tūroa. In the 18th and 19th century, Te Peehi Tūroa was a rangatira of the Whanganui-based hapū and was deemed an influential leader.

A further Te Arawhiti memo states an agreement with Patutokotoko was struck in June last year following engagement on issues with Ruapehu, including concerns around the “trademark over their Tūroa family name”.

Crown support for historical research into the history of the hapū and the Tūroa family has been proposed, alongside development of multimedia materials to tell its story.

In addition, the document reveals the government’s package is to include funding to enable the purchase of land to build a marae or cultural hub, and “assistance resolving concerns” about the use of the name Tūroa for the skifield.

Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Minister Paul Goldsmith said his officials and representatives of Patutokotoko “are exploring the development of a reconciliation package”.

Goldsmith confirmed no decisions had yet been made.

A memo sent to Tama Potaka from Te Arawhiti in late May this year states Department of Conservation officials conceded the Crown committed to engage differently with iwi regarding Tongariro National Park and Ruapehu Alpine Lifts “but this had not occurred.”

“We will continue to work with DoC and MBIE as the commercial and concessions processes around Whakapapa ski area move forward,” the memo states.

Documents previously released to NZME under the Official Information Act revealed then regional development minister Kiri Allan penned an apology letter to iwi representation group Tūwharetoa, over “flawed” engagement around the skifields - co-signed by Andrew Little and Willow-Jean Prime.

We apologise for the impact this has had on you and your communities,” the then-ministers said, stating the process had not met “the standard of rigour that you should expect from the Crown”.

The Tūroa skifield is being operated by company Pure Tūroa for the first time this season, after a successful bid was signed off by the Department of Conservation. A 10-year concession was approved on April 6.

A commercial deal involving the Tūroa side of the mountain was approved earlier in the year. Photo / Bevan Conley

The Whakapapa skifield has not seen the same certainty, this season being operated by the receivers of embattled ski company Ruapehu Alpine Lifts, as bids were pulled from the table and no decision could be reached by the deadline.

Ruapehu Alpine Lifts has seen a number of government cash splashes over the years, to keep the skifield operational. The district’s tourism sector is essentially reliant on the success of the Ruapehu skifields.

The most recent support package for RAL has been described as a “final” bailout by the new government.

Conversations continue with key stakeholders. A further Te Arawhiti document confirms a proposal of a meeting between ministers and iwi, to discuss the potential commercial process for the sale of Whakapapa’s ski assets and Chateau Tongariro, future concession processes, and next steps for negotiations.

A separate meeting also took place recently involving senior Department of Conservation officials, Whanganui River post-settlement governance entity Ngā Tangata Tiaki, Patutokotoko, and a number of iwi representatives.

“The purpose of the hui was to discuss iwi concerns about the Tūroa ski area concession process in March. DoC officials conceded that, in June last year, the Crown committed to engage differently with iwi with interests in Tongariro National Park in relation to the processes around Ruapehu Alpine Lifts but this had not occurred,” the memo states.

Officials from the Ministry of Business were invited to the hui but declined to attend.

In a statement, an MBIE spokesperson said the discussion “related specifically to other agencies’ areas of engagement responsibilities,” surrounding RAL concessions and matters regarding the Tongariro National Park settlement.

Ruapehu District Mayor Weston Kirton told NZME the consultation with iwi had been an “ongoing issue for some time”.

He said it was “imperative” to have a good relationship with iwi and hapū regarding the skifields.

“We’ve also got to respect the history behind the business of skiing in this area, and Tūroa has been a name around for a long time; we need to have that name attached to that skifield because it’s got a proud history,” Kirton said.

Whanganui Māori Regional Tourism Organisation chairman Hayden Potaka told NZME consultation needed to be “a lot more thought out,” with a longer timeframe.

Potaka said skiing was not the only aspect of Ruapehu, pointing out great rides and other tourism opportunities: “I think the focus should be around that and maintaining the natural environment that is there, or even regenerating it.”

The documents released under the OIA to Te Arawhiti state a number of iwi “did not support continuation of commercial skifields on Ruapehu in their current form”.

In a letter, Ngāti Tūwharetoa said it promoted a “managed retreat,” especially in relation to skifield activities but stated it supported long-term sustainable commercial activities, that boost regional development.

Azaria Howell is a Wellington-based multimedia reporter with an eye across the region. She joined NZME in 2022 after multiple years as a student journalist. She has a keen interest in city council decisions, public sector reform, and transport.