Final step for settlement of iwi claims

The top of the south Treaty of Waitangi settlements will cross their final hurdle tomorrow, granting around $200 million in cash, land and assets across eight tribes through acts of Parliament.

"It's no longer political after that, it's straight process," said Ngati Koata negotiator, board member and former chair Roma Hippolite.

He would be one of a group of 20 travelling to witness the third reading of the settlement bills and they would come back to Nelson's Whakatu Marae and hold a barbecue at which the community was welcome, he said.

"Thursday is a big day, but it's not the big day - that day is when the settlement takes place. That's when we'll have the real big iwi celebration."

That date is yet to be arrived at, with a minimum of 70 days after the royal assent to be signed by the governor-general. Final decisions could take as long as 12 months but Hippolite said iwi were "absolutely optimistic that all the ducks will line up" and the settlement would come soon.

Although Nelson's Wakatu Incorporation is still arguing in the courts that its shareholders' rights are being extinguished, the Government says the three bills settle all the claims in Te Tau Ihu, the top of the south. They involve Ngati Apa, Ngati Kuia, Rangitane, Ngati Koata, Ngati Rarua, Ngati Tama, Te Atiawa and Ngati Toa. Ngati Toa's North Island claims will also be settled, and a Haka Ka Mate bill will also be passed, giving Ngati Toa attribution rights.

Hippolite, regarded as a key negotiator, said it had been a team effort from the eight iwi who had "put aside petty squabbles" to settle.

"Even if it's not what you'd want, it's still a result."

He said the record of Ngai Tahu, which covers the rest of the South Island, showed the post-settlement benefits to the entire community. Business leaders found they liked dealing with iwi, who didn't sell their companies overseas and invested profits in their own areas.

"For Ngati Koata, that's the Nelson-Marlborough area. We're here to stay, we're going to invest for our grandchildren, and make some positive steps so that they have a better life than we did."

The deeds of settlement set out financial and commercial redress of about $28m for Ngati Apa, $25m for Ngati Kuia and $25m for Rangitane; about $12m each for Ngati Koata, Ngati Rarua, Te Atiawa and Ngati Tama; and $70m for Ngati Toa. The settlements include a chance to buy and lease back Crown properties and a right of first refusal over surplus Crown properties.

A number will pass into iwi ownership, with a right of occupancy to the Crown for the existing activities. In Nelson these include schools such as Appleby School, Albion Square, which is home to the Nelson Courthouse, and blocks of Crown forestry land. But local purpose reserves vested in local authorities, such as Nelson Airport, are not affected.

Nelson MP Nick Smith said the "full and final settlements" were hugely positive for Nelson and Marlborough, removing a "cloud of grievances" and allowing the Government to manage Crown assets more efficiently.

"It's good news economically, in that our local iwi are more parochial than anybody and will be investing the nearly $200 million back in our region."

Smith said he was proud that New Zealand was founded on a treaty based on peaceful mutual respect, "although we've had failings along the way".

"Local Maori were generous and welcoming to Nelson's early settlers but our forebears rapidly became arrogant and dominant. Land sale agreements were not honoured, there was no respect for Maori culture and that combined with disease and economic dislocation, left Maori at the end of the 19th century in our region in a pretty impoverished state."

He said the way the eight Nelson-Marlborough iwi were working together "just brings me delight and positivity about the future".

The most difficult part of the settlement process for the Government has been the tension between the iwi and Wakatu, Smith said. Deciding who was the fair and legal representative of 19th century Maori was a delicate argument, with no pure answer, but the Government was determined to only settle once.

Wakatu's shareholders were also members of local iwi "and the Government has decided to proceed with the settlement despite the fact that Wakatu has tried to shoulder in on the settlement deal".

Wakatu's economic success was something to be hugely proud of and he hoped relations between the incorporation and iwi improved, and that they could work co-operatively post-settlement, he said.

Wakatu chairman Paul Morgan said the incorporation was awaiting an Appeal Court decision and would decide on any further legal action after that.

The settlements did not affect the legal process, he said.

"Effectively the bill is removing our legal property rights and we haven't been consulted on that. This has been a long journey and it hasn't finished."

Morgan said Wakatu already did a lot of business with top of the south iwi entities and there would be more opportunities post-settlement.