NGAI TAHU CLAIMS SETTLEMENT BILL

  • Doug Graham
Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations

I move that the Ngai Tahu Claims Settlement Bill be now read a third time.

Mr Speaker

The increasing numbers of settlers arriving in New Zealand after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi produced a demand for land which became hard to satisfy. Despite the instructions to the fledgling Government that land should not pass from Maori if in doing so there would be insufficient left for their own sustenance, the Government found itself under intense pressure as the number of settlers rose inexorably. By about 1865, the settlers outnumbered Maori. Denied funds from Great Britain to administer the new colony, but armed with a Crown pre-emptive right to purchase land, it perhaps is hardly surprising that the Government found the solution to its financial plight was to buy land from the Maori and on sell at a profit to the settlers. And so land purchase officials were sent out to acquire the land and very successful they were. Vast tracts of land came into Crown ownership, none more so in this period than the lands of Ngai Tahu in Te Waipounamu. Between 1840 and 1865 practically all of the rohe of Ngai Tahu had been purchased with only pockets of lands retained or reserved for the original owners. And what was retained was quite inadequate to ensure that Ngai Tahu would be able to share in the prosperity which followed the development of the nation. Some of the transactions were simply fraudulent. Others contained an inadequate consideration for the land mass involved. Reserves which it had been agreed were to be set aside for Ngai Tahu failed to materialise.

Far from respecting the fair dealing required by the Treaty, the Crown ignored its responsibilities in an indecent grab for land no matter the consequences. Details of the transactions can be found in the Waitangi Tribunal Report on the Ngai Tahu Claims released in 1991. It makes sobering reading. The nine tall trees of Ngai Tahu representing the nine major transactions cried out for redress yet remained unanswered. But it is not just a matter of examining the sale documents and ascertaining where breaches of contract had occurred. For the quintessential consequences were not just economic.

A lack of understanding, and indeed often a lack of interest, by the new settlers of the cultural differences between Maori and the new immigrants, meant that such considerations were rarely taken into account. The holistic concept of man and his place in nature, the mauri or life force imbued in physical tangible features of mountains, lakes, rivers, or pounamu was unintelligible - the critical need of Maori to belong to the land of their ancestors and the mana that brought, incomprehensible. It was not just a matter of commercial fairness. It was a matter of identity, of status, of tino rangatiratanga, of physical and mental stability, of being Maori. All this was lost. The consequence was all that was Maori was lost. Economic deprivation was one thing. Loss of standing and the ability of the tribe to fend for itself an even greater calamity. As the years passed and the country grew in prosperity, Ngai Tahu was cast aside as an irrelevance.

Some attempts were made over the years to provide some recompense in so called final settlements. They proved to be less than durable for they failed to respond to the need - recognition and esteem, a return of land and an involvement in those matters of importance to Ngai Tahu such as mahinga kai, conservation and ecological issues, and a respect for cultural and spiritual linkages to those special and sacred sites. Today this House is asked to approve the Third Reading of the Ngai Tahu Claims Settlement Bill. It is a Bill which puts into legislative form those parts of an 1800 page Deed of Settlement, negotiated between the Crown and Ngai Tahu over some 6 years, which require enactment. It is a very long Bill of over 450 clauses. This settlement is the best that we can do. Not only is there commercial redress but also what is described as mana enhancing provisions, new mechanisms which are designed to prevent future difficulties arising through ignorance. Joint involvement in preserving our heritage and landscapes for the betterment of generations of New Zealanders yet unborn will I hope be particularly worthwhile. There are place name changes to give better respect to those who were here first. The negotiators on both sides have tried to achieve fairness - to Ngai Tahu of course, but to all of us who live in this most favoured land. While we do not claim to have satisfied everyone, I like to think we have succeeded and it is very pleasing to us to find our endeavours have, on the whole, been well received.

There are those who still find the settlement of grievances of Maori a difficult issue. One or two write almost daily to the newspapers. It is not hard to excite their passionate objection. They seek any excuse to condemn the process. Not surprisingly there is a temptation amongst political parties to encourage and indeed generate misgivings and anxieties in an attempt to garner votes. It is easy to criticise, to suggest that new injustices are being created, that settlements will never be final as if such arguments would justify a refusal to even make an attempt to correct the wrong done. But never does one hear their own solutions or constructive suggestions. Until quite recently I have been extremely proud of the mature way in which such temptations have been rejected by all members of this House. I hope that this attitude will continue and that those amongst us who find this temptation beguiling will think again. For answering a cry for justice must be above politics. If we are to ensure a just, peaceful and prosperous future for those to follow we must continue as we have begun. There can be no turning back now. We have struggled with these claims just as other former colonies Australia and Canada have done. We do not claim to have all the answers. The perfect solution is unobtainable. But in this Bill we have laid a firm foundation for a peaceful and prosperous future. And if it is difficult for non Maori, consider how difficult it is for Ngai Tahu. They do not believe that this settlement nor any settlement can fully recompense for nearly a century and a half of deprivation. But it is sufficient to begin to build again - and we should join together now to wish them well. They must face the challenges of the future which they know will be daunting. From the burden of survival in grievance, Ngai Tahu now move to development and enhanced strength. This will create many opportunities but with that comes great responsibility. They have already determined the tribal structure which they believe will be best for the next millennium. It is clear that not all within the tribe agree with the decisions made to date. Nor it seems is there unanimity on who, today, are properly described as Ngai Tahu. But that is for Ngai Tahu and no one else to resolve. And it will need a tolerant and inclusive approach within the tribe if internal dissent is not to hinder the progress that beckons.

It remains for me to acknowledge all of those, both Maori and non Maori who, over so many years, have given their all to bring us to this day. If success is determined by the effort put in, then success is certainly due to you. There are too many to acknowledge individually. You know who you are and you are entitled to feel quiet satisfaction for your achievements. For each of you have helped to heal the rift, have calmed the anger and the hurt, have generated goodwill and trust where it was absent, and have brought about a reconciliation to help build a better future for us all.

And so I conclude. To my many friends of Ngai Tahu I send you my greeting. I hope this new beginning will, over time, fulfil all your hopes and dreams. Today the tears you shed are no longer tears of sorrow for past suffering but tears of joy for the new tomorrow. In your endeavours you will have the support of the vast majority of all New Zealanders even though there will be some who will expect a higher standard from you than they set for themselves. Do not be deterred. Bring your wisdom and judgment to all the decisions you must now make. And I ask - what is the duty of every New Zealander in these matters? I answer - it is to be tolerant, to share what we have with goodwill, to respect each other and the dignity of one another.

Kia tau te rangimarie ki a tatou katoa

May peace be with all of us.