Address to Waikato Tainui at the signing of the Waikato River Deed of Settlement

  • Michael Cullen
Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations

Speech notes prepared ahead of address at the Waikato River Deed of Settlement event, Turangawaewae Marae

168 years ago, Maori and the Crown signed the Treaty of Waitangi.

In the Treaty’s words lived the potential to disavow colonialism as previously known, with its dire consequences for native peoples around the world. The parties to the Treaty had an opportunity to show that with good will, it was possible for new settlers and indigenous people to gain and learn from each other.

But almost immediately, that opportunity slipped away.

It is a tragedy of our history that in the century and a half that followed the signing of the Treaty, the Crown failed to uphold its part of the bargain in so many ways. We failed to deliver on our obligations of partnership and respect. We failed to deliver full equality for Maori and we failed to protect the rights of Maori – both their basic human rights and their rights of property.

New Zealand is a lesser nation today as a result of the Crown’s failure to uphold its obligations to so many generations of Maori.

But through the Treaty Claims and Settlement process, we have sought to address our historic failure and strive once again to live up to the ideals of the Treaty.

We have sought to acknowledge the injustices past, and sought to build new and shared ambitions for New Zealand’s future and New Zealand’s people.

Our process of reconciliation and redress is now seen as an example to other nations. It is a process that has many mothers and fathers, from the Third Labour Government of Norman Kirk, to the original members of the Waitangi Tribunal to the men and women who negotiated 1992’s commercial fisheries settlement.

But it is fair to say that the Treaty Negotiations process as we now know it was born nearly 20 years ago, when Waikato Tainui became the first iwi to sign Terms of Negotiation with the Crown.

In 1989, your leaders – including the late Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu– brought Tainui to the negotiating table with the ambition to agree a comprehensive settlement of your historical grievances with the Crown. Their goal was a settlement that would see the injustices committed against Tainui recognised, a full apology granted, and redress delivered that would provide a powerful platform for the social and economic development of your people.

In 1995, Waikato Tainui made huge steps toward that goal with a settlement signed on these very banks. The news and images of that settlement saw Tainui emerge as leaders in the Treaty Negotiations process, and your work in the years since to become a significant economic force have been an inspiration to iwi throughout the country.

Your settlement of 13 years ago is for many New Zealanders the enduring symbol of what our process of reconciliation can achieve.

And today, nearly 20 years after Waikato Tainui first sat across the negotiating table from the Crown, we are taking a major step toward realising the full ambitions of your original negotiators.

At the time of the original settlement, Waikato Tainui and the Crown agreed to put to one side discussions on your claims and grievances in relation to the Waikato River. Your claims over the river could not be questioned, but the complexities presented by addressing them were very difficult ones indeed.

Rather than allow these complexities to stand in the way of the progress that could be made, we agreed to address them at a later date.

In 2005 both parties agreed that it was time to begin those discussions and move towards agreement. It is fair to say we found that the difficult issues we put to one side in 1995 had become no less simple to address in the intervening decade.

It is said that around every bend in the mighty Waikato a taniwha can be found. In the three years of this negotiating process I think we can all agree that we found every single one.

Addressing the significant damage done to Tainui through the degradation of the Waikato raised questions for dozens of communities up and down the river. It required us to draw on the resources of no less than ten government departments. Five mayors and councils and Environment Waikato were called on for support and engagement. All iwi of the river - Ngāti Maniapoto, Raukawa, Te Arawa, Ngāti Tūwharetoa and Tainui – had to consult their people and commit their time and resources.


In the end, the major challenge of these negotiations has been finding a way to recognise the clear interests of Waikato Tainui within the already complex web of relationships and legislation that now govern the management of the river. It has been among the most complex set of challenges we have faced in the Treaty settlements process to date.

And it was Waikato Tainui itself that showed us the way through these challenges.

It was Waikato Tainui that insisted the restoration of the health and wellbeing of this river be the paramount goal of our work.

It was Waikato Tainui that reminded us that all New Zealanders have a stake in the health of our longest river – the river that gives us so much of our energy, that weaves through one of the powerhouse regions of our primary industry, that is a favourite location for outdoor recreation for so many Kiwis, not least of which our Olympic rowers.

It was Waikato Tainui that pointed out that your commitment to sustainability is driven by the same social, environmental, and economic concerns that have led the Prime Minister to encourage New Zealand to become the world’s first truly sustainable nation.

And it was Waikato Tainui that took us right back to the Treaty of Waitangi and its spirit of partnership as we sought to settle this river claim.

You came to the table and told the Crown that we had not protected your interests in the River. But you did not come to the table looking for the Crown to write out a cheque and cleanse ourselves from our responsibility to clean up the mess we allowed to happen.


You came to the table looking for a Treaty partner. A Treaty partner that would play its role in restoring the river that means so much to Maori and Pakeha alike; a Treaty partner that would work in the interests of the river over the long haul; and a Treaty partner that knew a successful partnership would have to be a fair and equal one.

And with the signing of this Deed of Settlement today, it is a true Treaty partner that Waikato Tainui has finally secured – a partner that will work with you with the respect you deserve and towards the goals we all share.


This Deed of Settlement acknowledges your relationship with the Waikato River, and begins a new era of co-management of the river and its catchment – the highest level of co-management achieved anywhere in New Zealand.

With this agreement the Crown is showing Waikato Tainui that we are committed to restoring the health of the Waikato River and to a clean up process that will be one of the most important environmental undertakings in New Zealand’s history.



At the same time the agreement acknowledges and makes provision for

• the other iwi in the region for whom the Waikato River is of immense cultural and social significance, and

• the importance of the river to all other people in the region

In part the spirit of this agreement has already been tested with the formation of the establishment Committee of the Guardians of the Waikato River.

The Guardians are the permanent body responsible for developing a Vision and Strategy for the river and implementing that strategy.

The establishment committee – made up of representatives of Waikato Tainui, other river iwi, and regional and national interests in the river – put together a draft vision and strategy and then engaged in extensive community consultation.

The spirit of co-operation and goodwill within the establishment committee and their enthusiastic and effective engagement with the wider community suggest the agreement we are signing today meets the needs of our time and has touched a chord throughout the region.

In concluding this agreement we must pay tribute to those who have inspired it.

When she spoke on this occasion in 2006, the Prime Minister celebrated the 40th anniversary of the leadership of Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu. These negotiations were begun under her leadership and with her enthusiastic support.

We must also remember the Chief Negotiator of your 1995 settlement, Sir Robert Mahuta who initiated the claim and began the process that has brought us here today.

I would also like to pay tribute to the Waikato Tainui Co-Negotiators of this agreement, Lady Raiha Mahuta and Tukuroirangi Morgan. Their determination to find a solution that honoured the memory of past generations and served the needs of generations to come never wavered. Their leadership has been inspirational.

Today we acknowledge the history of this river and the history of the iwi for whom it means so much.

But today when we sign our names to this Deed of Settlement we do more than acknowledge the painful history of this river. We do more than assign responsibility for its degradation and we do more than outline redress for the Crown’s failure to protect it.

Today we begin a new journey together. The signatories to this deed are agreeing to a shared vision for the Waikato River; a vision of a cleaner river; a vision of a river that will be an asset for all our communities; a vision of a river that can be a proud symbol of a truly sustainable New Zealand.

Our work to restore this River over the coming decades will be an ambitious undertaking for iwi, for local government, for conservationists, businesses, communities, and the Crown. And our need to protect the river from future and further degradation will never end.

This settlement is a plan for the future for all our people.

I am honoured to sign my name to this Deed today.