Maori do not own treasures such as flora and fauna but they are entitled to a "reasonable degree of protection" over them, a landmark report from the Waitangi Tribunal says.
It also says that unless Maori are given more say on the use of their culture and taonga – as promised in the Treaty of Waitangi – they will continue to figure disproportionately in the ranks of the poor and underproductive.
The Crown "either deliberately or through neglect, has largely supported one of New Zealand's two founding cultures at the expense of the other", the tribunal says in a report 20 years in the making.
The report on the WAI262 claim has been described as the most important Treaty development in a generation, but its findings – made public today – are already under fire from both sides of the political spectrum, and nothing is likely to happen to it until after the general election.
Maori Party MP Rahui Katene – the daughter of one of the original WAI262 claimants – said the findings were very political, weak and had missed the point.
"There is no Maori control over things Maori, which is what the original claim called for. It is all about partnership, which is fine, but I think Maori will still be treated as the junior partner."
The claim was lodged 20 years ago by members of Ngati Kuri, Te Rarawa, Ngati Koata, Ngati Porou, Ngati Wai and Ngati Kahungunu. Just one of the six original claimants – Saana Murray of Ngati Kuri – is still alive.
The claim concerns the place of Maori culture and cultural guardianship over taonga in New Zealand law. It is known as the "flora and fauna and cultural intellectual property" claim, but covers the entire Maori culture, from language, science, history, rituals, ceremony, haka, ta moko, waiata, carving and traditional knowledge to flora and fauna and any other artistic or cultural work.
Wellington patent attorney Lynell Tuffery Huria said indigenous people around the world had been waiting for the tribunal's findings, which were "bigger than the foreshore and seabed debate".
The report will be released today at Roma marae in Ahipara, Northland, and recommends changes to laws and policies to improve the partnership between Crown and Maori.
The tribunal found that, despite a generation of hard work between Maori and the Crown in settling Treaty grievances, Maori had remained sidelined from decisions over their culture.
Laws and policies have developed that give others control of taonga that are "significant to iwi and hapu culture and identity".
Current laws do not recognise or support the Maori relationship with taonga and do not protect against offensive, derogatory, unauthorised or commercial use of taonga, such as use of the Ka Mate haka in a Fiat advert and by the Spice Girls.
The tribunal found that Maori do not have ownership rights over flora and fauna, but their relationship to them is entitled to a "reasonable degree of protection". Current laws allow others to conduct research, obtain intellectual property rights and commercialise taonga species without informing or gaining the consent of Maori.
The 1000-page, three-volume report is the first whole-of-government inquiry done by the tribunal and has gone to the prime minister, deputy prime minister and 18 ministers responsible for 24 portfolios.
It says the lack of place for Maori culture in law and policy "continues a national story in which the Crown, either deliberately or through neglect, has largely supported one of New Zealand's two founding cultures at the expense of the other".
The tribunal found that "partnership is urgently needed" to reflect the constitutional promises made in the Treaty. Failure to do so would see a growth in poor and underproductive working-age Maori "who are perceived, and know they are perceived, as a problem to be managed with a seemingly endless stream of taxpayer-funded programmes".
"This is the path of ongoing Maori anger and non-Maori resentment."
- The Dominion Post
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