Ngāi Tahu are a resilient, entrepreneurial people who made our home in the South Island/Te Waipounamu 800+ years ago.
Our ancestors were the first long distance seafarers, riding the ocean currents and navigating by stars on voyaging waka. From Hawaiki Nui, they populated the islands of the South Pacific eventually making their way to Te Waipounamu (the South Island).
We understand the celestial waka, Uruao, was led here by the captain called Rakaihautū. He carved out the great lakes across the Te Waipounamu, forming food baskets to sustain his descendants. These sacred lakes include Wakatipu (beside Queenstown), and Lake Wānaka.
The lakes and coastlines became part of an intricate network for mahinga kai (customary food gathering sites). The food baskets of the land supported the many permanent and semi-permanent settlements of Ngāi Tahu. Whānau travelled seasonally and quickly learnt to adapt to living in this formidable southern environment.
Possessing an entrepreneurial character, we seized upon the economies of whaling, sealing and the export of flax and provisions such as potatoes and grains. By the 1830’s, Ngāi Tahu had become the backbone of the South Island economy. We also looked after whalers and settlers in need, shared our food and knowledge, and began to integrate with the new arrivals.
Over the 1840s and 1850s, Ngāi Tahu entered into contracts with the Crown to sell some of our land, with the promise of the creation of reserves and infrastructure sufficient for our people to thrive. Though as history shows, the Crown did not honour its side of the bargain. Ngāi Tahu were forced into being a people almost devoid of land, depleted by disease and divorced from the growing economy. Hence Te Kerēme – the Ngāi Tahu Claim was born.
Over seven generations, Ngāi Tahu carried its quest for justice, led and inspired by the tribal philosophy of ‘mō tātou, ā, mō kā uri, ā muri ake nei – for us and our children after us.’ We overcame legal and practical barriers to continue our mahinga kai practices. We conducted the world’s first indigenous census so that our descendants would always be able to trace their whakapapa (ancestry). We wrote petitions to the Queen, supported our tribal leadership to become Members of Parliament and lobbied for Commissions of Inquiry so that we would one day reclaim the land and resources we needed to ensure our people would once again flourish. The quest for justice culminated in the Ngāi Tahu Settlement of 1998, which transferred a range of resources and tools that forged the next stage of our tribal journey.
Today our Ngāi Tahu identity continues to evolve and adapt as it has always done. The responsibility of current generations is to honour the deeds and values of our tīpuna (ancestors) and to create an inheritance for future generations. Ngāi Tahu have a responsibility to use the resources we have fought to reclaim in order to achieve the culturally rich, boundless future our tīpuna dreamed we could achieve.
In Queenstown today, Ngāi Tahu are constantly at work with shared governance over the local environment and ownership of several major tourism and property ventures in the Wakatipu Basin.
As at 2020, there are no public tours in Wakatipu that are co-designed or led by mana whenua (the long-standing indigenous people of this area). Because of our connection to the grass-roots community here, Check-In may be able to support you to design your own experience, unique for you. Options could include Mau Rākau (traditional Māori martial art including ancestral practices, values and protocols of the warrior), Ngāi Tahu creation and myths, Waiata Māori (songs), Māori healing and rongoa (medicinal herbs), narrated tours by mana whenua representatives, karakia (to learn incantations/prayers), waiata, haka, tikanga Māori (protocols, including connection to mana whenua) or more.whitelawmitchell