Editorial: Relief, vindication in Treaty deals

Last updated 13:00 10/12/2012

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OPINION: The pen is finally close to the paper for top of the south Treaty settlements.

Ngati Koata and Te Atiawa o Te Waka-a-Maui representatives will sign deeds with the Crown on December 21 valued at $11.7 million each.

The ceremonies at Nelson's Whakatu marae and Picton's Waikawa marae will end six years of negotiations in their current form, but decades of fruitless attempts by the iwi to seek redress for the loss of their lands in Nelson and Marlborough.

Ngati Toa, which also has top of the south links, signed its $75.2m settlement last Friday.

For many, and for different reasons, the settlements will be a relief.

To the claimants who have fought a long and complex case, it is a vindication of their efforts and those who went before them.

For the Government it is another step along the path to finalising historical claims that have festered for too long.

There are naturally a range of views in the community, from those who believe no compensation should be paid to those who think it is not enough, and those who are sick of the long-running process.

But once successive governments committed to a genuine Treaty of Waitangi redress from the mid-1990s, the process has to be seen through.

Unravelling 170 years of history, comparing promises to actions, sifting facts from flimsy records, and then coming up with a practical and acceptable compensation package is not a straightforward endeavour.

It's one that also needs goodwill on both sides and in the wider community. How much that has been tarnished by the current Maori Council case over water rights remains to be seen, but there is firmer ground for the land claims.

The deed of settlements for Ngati Koata and Te Atiawa, on the Office of Treaty Settlements website, concludes that both iwi were effectively left landless through a series of Crown purchases at low prices, and broken promises over reserves.

The settlement deeds acknowledge that the deals for both iwi - including financial, commercial and cultural redress - cannot be a full assessment and therefore full compensation of their loss.

But there is also a clause acknowledging it is final and "fair in the circumstances".

Ngati Koata trustee Roma Hippolite has questioned that definition of fairness. He says the Crown had told iwi it could not afford to give any more, yet since negotiations began it bailed out private investors like those in South Canterbury Finance to the tune of $1.7 billion.

Still, he says the iwi will accept the settlement and get on with life.

Part of that will be building strong businesses as Ngai Tahu have done successfully with their 1998 Treaty payout.

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The presence of Ngai Tahu leaders at an inaugural top of the south Maori economic summit in Nelson in October was an encouraging sign.

The settlement money offers hope for iwi members, particularly young Maori, to improve education and job prospects. As Mr Hippolite says, the investment should be good for everybody.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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