Iwi loses bid over Ngati Toa Treaty agreement

Last updated 05:00 30/11/2012

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The High Court has refused to interfere in parts of Ngati Toa's Treaty of Waitangi settlement to which Wellington iwi have objected.

The court said there was no legal basis for finding parts of Ngati Toa's settlement inconsistent with the deal already struck with Taranaki Whanui.

Taranaki Whanui said it had a stronger claim than Ngati Toa, and its own settlement and some of what was offered to Ngati Toa were inconsistent.

In a judgment from the High Court at Wellington, Justice Joe Williams said Taranaki Whanui's stance was understandable, but there was no inconsistency between the law that gave effect to its settlement and the Ngati Toa agreement, which is due for signing in the coming weeks.

Ngati Toa executive director Matiu Rei said he was happy with the decision and looked forward to signing the settlement.

In his decision, Justice Williams said he understood that customary rights continued to have "transcendent" importance to iwi, and that Taranaki Whanui feared its dominant interest would be devalued under the modern system of legal recognition.

In short, modern Resource Management Act-based acknowledgments "dumb down tikanga Maori", he said.

As the first group from the Wellington district to settle its claims, Taranaki Whanui could not have known what would happen in policy or political terms later, he said.

In the days before signing its own deed of settlement in 2008, Taranaki Whanui had to decide whether to put its own settlement at risk to try to settle overlapping claims with Ngati Toa, or sign its deed and hope to resolve cross-claims later.

Ngati Toa's settlement process has been slower. Its deed of settlement with the Crown, initialled in August, included attribution for the Ka Mate haka and $70 million in financial redress.

Some properties in central Wellington intended to be offered for sale to Ngati Toa on a first-right-of-refusal basis have already been dropped from its settlement because of Taranaki Whanui protests.

Taranaki Whanui is opposed to Ngati Toa's settlement, including the vesting of Taputeranga Island at Island Bay, a deed of recognition over the Hutt River and its tributaries, and a statutory acknowledgement of coastal and harbour areas over which Taranaki Whanui also received a statutory acknowledgement.

Justice Williams said the modern statutory acknowledgments and deeds of recognition did not reflect the more sophisticated hierarchy of customary Maori interests.

Taranaki Whanui - Te Ati Awa, Taranaki, Ngati Ruanui, Ngati Tama and other iwi who came to the Wellington area from Taranaki in the 1830s - have been found to have rights by conquest, use and occupation of the harbour and surrounding land.

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When the Treaty was signed in 1840, customary rights in the area were still being established and their development was interrupted by European settlement.

At that time, Ngati Toa was based at Porirua but it also used the Hutt Valley and parts of the southwest coast, the Waitangi Tribunal has found.

- The Dominion Post

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