City of Christchurch – Ngāi Tahu: Historical Note

Archaeological evidence shows that Māori people were in Te Waipounamu, the South Island, one thousand years ago. Ngāi Tahu claim traditional rights over the vast majority of Te Waipounamu. Their origins lie in the North Island and before that in the islands of eastern Polynesia. The three main streams of descent which flow together to make up Ngāi Tahu are (in historical order) Waitaha, Mamoe and Tahu. From the early Waitaha period onwards, the area of present day Christchurch was an important Mahinga Kai or place for obtaining natural foods.

The Māori name for Christchurch is Otautahi, derived from a Ngāi Tahu Chief Tautahi from Koukourarata (Port Levy). He built his settlement on the banks of the Otakaro (Avon) river in the vicinity of the Avon loop, serving as a centre for political and economic activity.

An earlier settlement, Puari, once stood near the present day Victoria Street Bridge but little information about this pa or its original occupancy survives. The burial site for Puari was in the area around Cambridge Terrace, Durham Street, the site of the former Central Library and the Central Police Station.

By the 18th century Ngāi Tahu settlements existed throughout Canterbury. In the 1830s the people of Kaiapoi, Kaikoura and Akaroa suffered heavily during the raids of Te Raupuraha. The subsequent expulsion of the raiders was largely achieved by southern Ngāi Tahu who were well equipped and provisioned as a result of their economic relationships with the early whalers, sealers and traders.

In May 1840 the Treaty of Waitangi was signed at Akaroa and the following month at Ruapuke and Otakou. Ngāi Tahu chiefs signed for and on behalf of their Iwi ('tribe') and therefore Ngāi Tahu became a Treaty partner of the British Crown.

Soon after, settlers, eager to procure land, began to arrive in the Canterbury region.

The vast land holdings of Ngāi Tahu were a compelling attraction for colonisers and throughout the 1840s and 1850s numerous land transactions were carried out. However, from the outset Crown officials failed to uphold their promises in relation to a number of agreements, and in particular, Kemp's purchase of 1848, which secured 20,000,000 acres of Ngāi Tahu land across the South Island including Canterbury and Christchurch City. The transaction and its mishandling laid much of the basis for the present day Ngāi Tahu claim.

The Ngāi Tahu presence in Christchurch City remained strong after the turn of the 20th century. In 1939 Ngāi Tahu people formed the Kati Otautahi Association in order to support the Māori Battalion and the war effort in general. In the 1950s the Christchurch Polytechnic in partnership with Ngāi Tahu kaumatua developed a Māori Trade Training Scheme and under this scheme several thousand Māori youth from the North Island came to Christchurch to undertake apprenticeships. This was the forerunner of what was to become the Māori Affairs Trade Training Scheme, based at Rehua Marae, Springfield Road.

After completing their training many of the people remained and settled in Christchurch. Consequently the demographic make-up of Christchurch's modern Māori population can be directly attributed to the early apprentice scheme.

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This was originally derived from the Christchurch City Council handbook of 1998.

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