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Expressions of local governance on the East Coast

In Tairāwhiti in 1862 the total Pākehā population on the East Coast (excluding the area now known as Gisborne City and the Poverty Bay Flats) was estimated to be 20, while that of Maori was around 5,000.

This report by Jane Luiten commissioned by HistoryWorks for the Crown Forestry Rental Trust written in 2009 as part of the Waitangi Tribunal investigation into historic breaches of the Treaty, refers to a resident magistrate’s recollections of Māori community governance structures that existed before the settler governments imposed their local government on local communities:

“…Every day affairs on the coast at this time were said to be arranged by runanga. [Resident Magistrate] Baker reported that:

‘Almost every village has its own, in which everything, from far country news to domestic life, is freely discussed.’

Based at Rangitukia, Baker defined existing runanga as a community, consisting of any number of persons exceeding one family:

‘Thus, within a few hundred yards of my present residence, there is a collection of some three or four huts, the inhabitants of which style themselves “Te Runanga o Pahairomiromi;” the latter being the name of the village. These, and many other similar Runangas, assume all the powers and privileges of the largest Runanga (as at present constituted), and claim to be independent… of any control by the general Runanga, if such a term may be applied to the voice of the mass of the people.’ 

So there was a strong tradition of community governance and while settler governments imposed ‘local government’ straight over the top of these tribal arrangements undermining the mana of traditional runanga, in the post­‐settlement environment we are seeing a burgeoning of sub-­tribal groups being re-­established as hapū collectives and trusts with a focus on the social, economic, cultural and environmental revitalisation and wellbeing of their tribal area.

More recently this is extending/reverting to taking back the regulatory role for activities in the rohe via mechanisms like the Joint Management Agreement between Gisborne District Council and Te Runanganui o Ngati Porou that gives hapu groups more influence and responsibility in resource management decision-making processes.

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