Claims 'should be left to iwi'

Wakatu Incorporation should take its land claim to the Supreme Court, lose again and be done with it, says a former negotiator for three top of the South Island iwi.

The High Court last week ruled that Wakatu did not have legal standing to bring land claims on behalf of the original Maori owners of land in Nelson and Motueka, as it was a statutory incorporation rather than a "customary, collective group".

Wakatu has been criticised by top of the south iwi for its court action that has stalled Treaty of Waitangi settlement negotiations.

Three iwi, Rangitane, Ngati Apa and Ngati Kuia, represented by the Kurahaupo Ki Te Waipounamu Trust, have signed deeds of settlement, but have not been able to finish the process because Wakatu's court action delayed the introduction of legislation into Parliament.

Four other upper South Island iwi - Te Atiawa, Ngati Tama, Ngati Rarua and Ngati Koata - represented by the bargaining group Tainui Taranaki ki te Tonga had their settlement negotiations stalled in 2010, because Wakatu was a party to the negotiations.

Richard Bradley, of Blenheim, former chairman of the Kuruhaupo trust, said the High Court decision was a win for all of the iwi in the top of the south.

"What the decision says is that some of these quasi-Maori organisations should actually stop being a part of the grievance and let the cultural iwi identities actually sort out their differences with the Crown and move on. I think that's really what the judge was saying. He said they're not an iwi," he said.

"All of the claimants in the top of the south now can actually get on with finally settling, instead of having to deal with the enemy inside the circled wagon.

"I only hope now that they have got the courage of their convictions not to continue this meaningless litigation – to actually take their licks and let us all get on with it. The Crown is settling with hapu and iwi, not incorporations."

However, Mr Bradley said if Wakatu wanted to go to the Supreme Court, it would cause further delays but it would not halt the settlements.

"I hope that they actually do go to the Supreme Court and lose again, because while there's a cost it means that people get to see that greed doesn't stand up through the judicial process."

Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson said the High Court decision was a "comprehensive victory" for the Crown and further litigation would be regrettable as the case had caused "severe delay" to deserving iwi who had already been waiting too long to have their claims settled and redress transferred.

"These iwi have deeds of settlement initialled and a 433-page piece of legislation drafted and ready ... This litigation has held back iwi in the top of the South Island from being able to move forward. However, the Crown will not pay for the same historical claims twice; once through Treaty settlement and again through court award."

The Wakatu case has its roots in a promise by the New Zealand Company in the 1840s that it would reserve and hold in trust for Maori one-tenth of the land acquired for settlers.

Wakatu said it was acting for the descendants of the original 254 owners of the land. It said the people who would have benefited if its claim had succeeded were those who trace their whakapapa or lineage back to the original owners of the Tenths Reserves.

Wakatu chairman Paul Morgan said Wakatu had not ruled out an appeal. Wakatu's legal team would provide an assessment about what its options might be.

The Marlborough Express