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Treaty of Waitangi claims and settlements have been a significant feature of New Zealand race relations and politics since 1975. Over the last 30 years, New Zealand governments have increasingly provided formal legal and political opportunity for Māori to seek redress for breaches by the Crown of the guarantees set out in the Treaty of Waitangi. While it has resulted in putting to rest a number of significant longstanding grievances, the process has been subject to criticisms from a number of angles, from those who believe that the redress is insufficient to compensate for Māori losses, to those who see no value in revisiting painful and contentious historical issues.

Because the Treaty of Waitangi has limited legal standing in itself, the primary means of registering and researching Treaty claims is through the Waitangi Tribunal. The primary means of settling those claims is through negotiations with the government of the day.

History of the Treaty

The Treaty of Waitangi
The Treaty of Waitangi is often considered to be the founding document for European (Pākehā) settlement in New Zealand. It guaranteed to Māori the right to keep their lands, forests, fisheries and all their treasures, but they would hand sovereignty in the English version, and governorship in the Māori version, over to the Crown and would also only be able to sell to the Crown. Initially, there was little dispute, as the settlers were able to buy land from the Māori through legal channels. However, after a while, Māori became disillusioned and less willing to sell, while the Crown came under increasing pressure from settlers wishing to buy. Consequently, government land agents were involved in a number of dubious land purchases. Agreements were negotiated with only one owner of tribally owned land and in some cases land was purchased from the wrong people altogether. Unrest and rebellion caused by these actions were met with further punitive land confiscations. Eventually this led to the New Zealand Wars, which culminated in the confiscation of a large part of the Waikatomarker and Taranakimarker.

Early settlements

In the 1920s, land commissions investigated the grievances of iwi whose land had been confiscated or otherwise fraudulently obtained in the previous century, and many were found to be valid. By the 1940s, settlements in the form of modest annual payments had been arranged with some iwi. However, iwi came to consider the amounts to be inadequate, especially as inflation eroded their value, and the Crown has conceded that it did not sufficiently seek the agreement of iwi to declare their claims settled.

The Waitangi Tribunal

During the late 1960s and 1970s the Treaty of Waitangi became the focus of a strong Māori protest movement which rallied around calls for the government to `honour the treaty' and to `redress treaty grievances'. Māori expressed their frustration about continuing violations of the treaty and subsequent legislation by government officials, as well as inequitable legislation and unsympathetic decisions by the Māori Land Court alienating Māori land from its Māori owners.

In 1975 the Treaty of Waitangi Act established the Waitangi Tribunal to hear claims of Crown violations of the Treaty of Waitangi, to address those concerns. It allowed any Māori to lodge a claim against the Crown for breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi and its principles. Originally its mandate was limited to claims about contemporary issues, that is, those that occurred after the establishment of the Tribunal. Early claims included the 'Te Reo Māori' claim . As a result of the Tribunal's report into the claim, in 1987 the government made Te Reo Māori an official language of New Zealand, and established the Maori Language Commission to foster it. The pivotal issue considered by the Tribunal was whether a language could be considered a "treasure" or "taonga", and thus protected by the Treaty.

In 1985 the Fourth Labour Government extended the Tribunal's powers to allow it to consider Crown actions dating back to 1840, including the period covered by the New Zealand Wars. The number of claims quickly rose, and during the early 1990s, the government began to negotiate settlements of historical (pre-1992) claims.

Settlements of the 1990s

While early Tribunal recommendations mainly concerned a contemporary issue that could be revised or rectified by the government at the time, historical settlements raised more complex issues. The Office of Treaty Settlements was established in the Ministry of Justice to develop government policy on historical claims. In 1995, the government developed the "Crown Proposals for the Settlement of Treaty of Waitangi Claims" to attempt to address the issues. A key element of the proposals was the creation of a "fiscal envelope" of $1 billion for the settlement of all historical claims, an effective limit on what the Crown would pay out in settlements. The Crown held a series of consultation hui around the country, at which Māori vehemently rejected such a limitation in advance of the extent of claims being fully known. The concept of the fiscal envelope was subsequently dropped after the 1996 general election.

Despite the protest, three major settlements were reached during this time. The Minister of Justice and Treaty Negotiations at the time, Sir Douglas Graham, is credited with leading a largely conservative National government to make these breakthroughs.


The Treaty guaranteed to Māori their lands, forests and fisheries. Over time, however, New Zealand law began to regulate commercial fisheries, so that Māori control was substantially eroded. To resolve this grievance, in 1989 an interim agreement was reached. The Crown transferred 10 percent of New Zealand's fishing quota (some 60,000 tonnes), together with shareholdings in fishing companies and $50 million in cash, to the Waitangi Fisheries Commission. This commission was responsible for holding the fisheries assets on behalf of Māori until an agreement was reached as to how the assets were to be shared among tribes. In 1992, a second part of the deal, referred to as the Sealord deal, marked full and final settlement of Māori commercial fishing claims under the Treaty of Waitangi. This included 50% of Sealord Fisheries and 20% of all new species brought under the quota system, more shares in fishing companies, and $18 million in cash. In total it was worth around $170 million.

Waikato Tainui Raupatu

The first major settlement of historical confiscation, or raupatu, claims was agreed in 1995. Waikatomarker-Tainui's confiscation claims were settled for a package worth $170 million, in a mixture of cash and Crown-owned land. The settlement was accompanied by a formal apology, delivered by Queen Elizabeth II in person during her 1995 visit to New Zealand. The Crown apologised for the Invasion of the Waikato and the subsequent indiscriminate confiscation of land. The settlement did not include claims to the Waikato River, which remain to be resolved.

Ngāi Tahu

Ngāi Tahu's claims covered a large proportion of the South Islandmarker of New Zealand, and related to the Crown's failure to meet its end of the bargain in land sales that took place from the 1840s. Ngāi Tahu sought recognition of their relationship with the land, as well as cash and property, and a number of novel arrangements were developed to address this. Among other things, Ngāi Tahu and the Crown agreed that Mt Cook would be formally renamed Aoraki/Mount Cookmarker, and returned to Ngāi Tahu to be gifted back to the people of New Zealand.

Settlements of the 2000s

The process of negotiating historical claims continued after the 1999 election and the subsequent change in government without radical change to government policy. The models developed for the early settlements remain a strong influence. The first Labour Minister of Treaty Negotiations was Margaret Wilson. On her appointment as Speaker of the House in early 2005, she was followed in the role by Mark Burton. He was replaced by Deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen in November 2007.

In June 2008, the Crown and representatives from seven Maori tribes signed an agreement relating to Crown forest land that was dubbed "Treelords" by the media, because of perceived similarities to the Sealords deal of the 1990s. Like Sealords, it relates to a single issue, but covers multiple tribes. The agreement contains only financial redress, on account against comprehensive settlements to be negotiated with each tribe within the Collective. The agreement is the largest to date, by financial value, at NZ$196 million worth of forest land in total (including the value of the Affiliate Te Arawa Iwi and Hapu share). In addition, but not counted by the government as part of the redress package, the tribes will receive rentals that have accumulated on the land since 1989, valued at NZ$223 million..

As at July 2008, there have been 23 settlements (counting the above) of various sizes. Except as noted above, settlements generally include financial redress, a formal Crown apology for breaches of the Treaty, and recognition of the group's cultural associations with various sites.

In November 2008, Chris Finlayson, a Wellington based lawyer with experience in Treaty claims, was appointed Minister for Treaty Negotiations following the National Party victory in the 2008 election.

As well as the much publicized land and financial compensation, many of these later settlements included changing the official placenames. This has introduced significant numbers of macrons into official New Zealand placenames for the first time.

List of Treaty Settlements

Claimant Group Year Settled Value of Settlement (NZ$)
Fisheries (known as the "Sealord" deal) 1992 170,000,000
Ngati Rangiteaorere 1993 760,000
Hauai 1993 715,682
Ngati Whakaue 1994 5,210,000
Waikato - Tainui Raupatu 1995 170,000,000
Waimakuku 1995 375,000
Rotoma 1996 43,931
Te Maunga 1996 129,032
Ngai Tahu 1997 170,000,000
Ngati Turangitukua 1998 5,000,000
Pouakani 1999 2,000,000
Te Uri o Hau 2000 15,600,000
Ngati Ruanui 2001 41,000,000
Ngati Tama 2001 14,500,000
Ngati Awa (including ancillary claims) 2003 43,390,000
Ngati Tuwharetoa (Bay of Plenty) 2003 10,500,000
Nga Rauru Kitahi 2003 31,000,000
Te Arawa (Lakes) 2004 2,700,000
Ngati Mutunga 2005 14,900,000
Te Roroa 2005 9,500,000
Te Arawa Affiliate Iwi and Hapu 2008 38,600,000
Central North Island Forests Iwi Collective (Known as the "Treelords" deal) 2008 161,000,000
Taranaki Whanui ki Te Upoko o Te Ika 2008 45,159,000
Total settlements: 952,082,645


The Treaty settlement process has attracted criticisms from across the political spectrum since it began. As noted above, Māori were concerned that the level of redress provided was too low, and that the settlement process was subject to too much Crown control. Conservationists were concerned about the impact of claims to conservation land, and many Pākehā were concerned that settlements would directly affect them. Public Access New Zealand and the One New Zealand Foundation [279043] respectively were lobby groups formed to represent these views. In general, those who feel that the Treaty claims process has gone too far are Pākehā, while those who believe it does not go far enough are Māori. However there are some exceptions on both sides: the politician who has perhaps been most prominent in arguing against the Treaty is Winston Peters, who is Māori, while there have been a number of Pākehā pro-Treaty groups.

However, during the 1990s there was broad agreement between major political parties that the settlement of historical claims was appropriate, within the confines of the government's policy to limit impact on private landowners and access to conservation land. Legislation enacting Treaty settlements was passed by Parliament with an overwhelming majority. On the claimants' side, support for a settlement was expressed through ratification among adult members of a tribe, in contrast with the early settlement attempts of the 1940s.

Over time, the consensus on the part of politicians has frayed. Winston Peters has critiqued the increasing number of claims registered at the Waitangi Tribunal, a result of the law which allows any Māori to lodge a claim, and suggested that a "Treaty of Waitangi Gravy Train" has formed around the claims process. The ACT party has echoed that criticism - despite stating that "claims should be promptly settled where land was unlawfully taken or improperly compensated, if we can identify the descendants of those who were wronged", they have never voted in support of Treaty settlement legislation, and coined the phrase "Treaty of Waitangi Grievance Industry", to describe the participants in the settlement process.

The Orewa Speech in 2004 saw the National Party for the first time take up the term "Treaty of Waitangi Grievance Industry". National's Māori Affairs spokeswoman Georgina Te Heuheu, who was Associate Minister to Sir Douglas Graham, was replaced in the role by Gerry Brownlee. Specific criticism that members of the National Party have made against settlements is that they are not being negotiated quickly enough, that insufficient attention is being given to ensure that claimant negotiators have the support of their people, and that settlement legislation is giving inappropriate weight to the spiritual beliefs of Māori.

The Māori Party and Green Party both criticise Treaty settlements on the grounds that the Crown has too much power in negotiations, that settlements negotiated at an iwi level ignore the rights of hapu, and that settlement redress is too parsimonious.

While some disagreement remains, parties unanimously supported the legislation to implement the Te Roroa, Affiliate Te Arawa and Central North Island settlements, which were passed in September 2008.

See also

External links


  1. {{cite web | last = Waitangi Tribunal | title = Te Report of the Waitangi Tribunal on the Te Reo Maori Claim| date = 1986? | url ={6113B0B0-13B5-400A-AFC7-76F76D3DDD92} | format = HTML | accessdate = 2006-08-15 }}

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