Dr Sir Toby Curtis (left), Minister for Māori Crown Relations Hon. Kelvin Davis, Rotorua Mayor Steve Chadwick, and Waiariki MP Tamati Coffey with the Certificate of Title for Lake Ōkaro, which was officially handed to Te Arawa today.

Te Arawa and the wider community gathered today to celebrate the vesting of the Ōkaro lake bed to Te Arawa Lakes Trust, bringing all 14 Lakes under Te Arawa ownership and ensuring iwi will play a critical role in protecting the taonga for generations to come.

The ceremony follows on from the 2006 Treaty of Waitangi settlement which saw 13 lake beds returned to iwi.

Lake Ōkaro was not included in the original 2006 Te Arawa Lakes Settlement Act as it was vested as a recreation reserve, owned and managed by Rotorua Lakes Council. In 2014, ten years after the settlement, the council formally resolved to transfer ownership back.

Te Arawa Lakes Trust chairman, Dr Sir Toby Curtis says today’s ceremony is a momentous occasion that has been a long time coming – and one that wouldn’t have happened without the tireless work of many involved with Te Arawa Lakes Trust, and its predecessor, Te Arawa Māori Trust Board.

“As we stand here today it is important to reflect on both the past and the future. Without the legacy of the koroua who fought to preserve the rights of Te Arawa as kaitiaki, we wouldn’t be here on this momentous occasion which will help us play an instrumental role in protecting this taonga for generations to come.”

Tā Toby says today’s ceremony acknowledges Te Arawa’s ancestral connection to the Lakes, as well as the iwi’s crucial role in ensuring their ongoing restoration, preservation and protection moving forward.

“Almost 14 years ago, 13 lake beds were returned. Today has seen another piece of this story fall into place and the unfinished business of the settlement completed.

“The settlement has enabled a partnership approach to the ongoing management and restoration of our Te Arawa Lakes. Through this co-management, Te Arawa values are incorporated into decision making and lakes activities with our partners Rotorua Lakes Council, Bay of Plenty Regional Council and local hapū.

“By using Te Tūāpapa o ngā wai o Te Arawa, Te Arawa Cultural Values Framework, the iwi has been able to ensure a te ao Māori view to improving the health and wellbeing of Te Arawa lakes – an approach which is already showing dividends.”

Tā Toby paid tribute to those who have worked tirelessly to see the Lake’s ownership transferred to Te Arawa Lakes Trust, especially the work of Te Arawhiti – The Office for Māori Crown Relations. He also acknowledged the role of Rotorua Lakes Council and wider Crown agencies for their support and mahi.

“We are proud to showcase to the world the importance of mātauranga (indigenous knowledge) to freshwater management and that kaitiakitanga through co-management is achievable.”

Rotorua Mayor Steve Chadwick says today’s milestone resolves another long-standing local ownership issue.

“These are always complex matters that require time and process to bring to a conclusion, so it’s very pleasing, several years after Council confirmed the lake would be handed back, to now see this finalised,” says Mayor Chadwick.

“I thank all of those who have worked so hard to bring this about. It will be deeply significant to Te Arawa and those who whakapapa to the lake.

“It has been a long time coming and is another proud moment for Rotorua.”

The co-management of Lake Ōkaro will continue to sit within the Rotorua Te Arawa Lakes Strategy Group Partnership, as it has been since the settlement and in line with other lakes.

“Te Arawa will continue to welcome manuhiri and demonstrate manaakitanga by continuing to provide public access to Lake Ōkaro for all to enjoy.”