“It has been almost a decade since the Crown handed back the harbour islands to Taranaki Whanui ki te Upoko o Te Ika, and we have worked hard alongside our Treaty partner (DOC) to ensure we keep this taonga safe so it can be enjoyed now and by future generations,” says Kura Moeahu, Chair of the Harbour Islands Kaitiaki Board.
“These panels acknowledge our history and tell that story. Matiu is flourishing and is a source of pride for us.”
Matiu/Somes Island is owned by Taranaki Whānui, and is governed by the Harbour Islands Kaitiaki Board and managed by DOC. The island is celebrated as a conservation haven and for its rich cultural heritage.
While the important role it has played for European settlement is well known, Matiu/Somes Island’s significance for Taranaki Whānui has enjoyed less visibility. The interpretation panels will help to change this as iwi tell their own stories in their own voice.
The Taranaki Whānui stories have been collated by Morrie Love and their production and installation has been funded by DOC. They describe Taranaki Whānui history and their relationship to the wider harbour, including not only Matiu/Somes but the other two harbour islands, Mākaro and Mokopuna.
The unveiling was marked by a mihi whakatau celebrating the iwi’s presence on the island and acknowledging the partnership between DOC and iwi. The event was attended by uri of Taranaki Whānui ki Te Upoko o Te Ika, the Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage, representatives from DOC, and other key partners.
“This is a fitting celebration of our long-standing connection with Wellington harbour and with Matiu,” says Kura Moeahu.
The unveiling of these panels follows two other projects building Taranaki Whānui presence and reconnection with Matiu/Somes Island. In 2018 a waharoa or welcoming entrance was installed on the island, and last year an Iwi Kiatiaki DOC Ranger was appointed by iwi to foster iwi reconnection.
DOC Kapiti Wellington Operations Manager Jack Mace says that DOC are proud to support Taranaki Whānui in strengthening their relationship to the island.
“We are really excited about these panels. Iwi telling their story on Matiu enhances the mana of these islands and significantly adds to the visitor experience,” he says.
Matiu/Somes attracts approximately 20,000 visitors a year, all interested in exploring the environmental and heritage aspects of the island.
Today important conservation work has given it status as a pest-free island. Its resident rare species include kākāriki, cook strait giant weta, and tuatara.
“Visiting Matiu/Somes is an excellent opportunity for people to experience a pest-free island with a complex history,” says Jack Mace. “And now, it will provide people with an opportunity to understand and engage with Maori settlement and history in Wellington.”