Forest as a Person

Te Urewera

Image © David T

Forest as a Person

Te Urewera is the home to one of New Zealand’s greatest forests. Almost every bird species native to the North Island is to be found in this eastern pocket of lush bush and tucked away hidden amid the dense green growth is the stunning Lake Waikairemoana. The landscape of Te Urewera is inscribed with great cultural significance and has been the place of highly charged politically events. Te Urewera is home to the Maori tribe, Tuhoe, who are fiercely independent and the only tribe not to sign the Treaty of Waitangi with the first British settlers. Nor has the tribe entered a formal relationship with the British Crown, the sovereign head of state in New Zealand. Te Urewera National Park was formed in 1954 against the wishes of Tuhoe. However the recent treaty settlement, in which it was agreed to remove reference to it as a national park, reflects the changing nature of the relationship between Tuhoe and the state.


Urewera Mural

One of the New Zealand’s most notable artists was inspired to paint the now famous Urewera Mural. The painting, worth $2m, was stolen in 1997 by Tuhoe activists, but after much discussion was returned many months later and put back on display.

Urewera Mural, 1976 - Image © Colin McCahon, Department of Conservation/Ngai Tuhoe

Te Kooti

During the nineteenth century New Zealand Land Wars, fought between Maori and European settlers, the Maori Tuhoe fighter Te Kooti took refuge in the vast, impenetrable forests of Te Urewera. Desite many attempts to track him down he evaded colonial forces before finally being granted sanctuary.

Portrait of Te Kooti, 1889 or 1891 -
Image © Thomas Aldworth Ryan

The Forest as a Person

In 2014 Te Urewera National Park changed its name and status to Te Urewera. This granting to Te Urewera of legal personhood and sovereignty over itself created global attention. While this resulted in the disestablishment of Te Urewera National Park, the place remains available for all to enjoy and respect. The Department of Conservation remains involved in aspects of the areas management with this is directed by Tuhoe’s values and aspirations.

Image © New Zealand Government


For the local Maori tribe, Tuhoe, the forest of Te Urewera provides life and well being including food and medicine. Within Te Urewera are many important native plant species including the kawakawa, manuka and tutu shown here that are used within Rongoa, the traditional Maori system of medicine.

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