Treaty Settlements: Speech for Ta Apirana Ngata Memorial Lecture

  • Christopher Finlayson
Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations

Ko Hikurangi te maunga

Ko Waiapu to awa

Ko Ngati Porou te iwi

Ko Ta Apirana Ngata te tangata.

Ngati Porou iwi

Ngati Porou whenua

Tenei taku mihi atu ki a koutou

Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa.

Ka huri nga whakaaro ki nga tini mate.

E nga mate o te ra, o te wiki, o te marama, o te tau - haere, haere, haere.

Rau rangatira ma - he honore nui tenei mo ahau ki te haere mai ki tenei hui nui.

He hui whakamaumaharatanga  ki a Ta Apirana Ngata  tenei tangata tino rongonui.

I tera wiki i haere ahau ki te hui whakamaumaharatanga  o tona hoa  i a Ta Maui Pomare.

Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena tatou katoa.

It's a great honour to be here today. I know many of you; a number of you are my friends. Some, like Hekia Parata are valued party colleagues. Others, like Parekura Horomia, come from the other side of the House but are still valued Parliamentary colleagues.

I am particularly honoured to be asked to speak at these Ngata lectures, just as I was pleased a few weeks ago to go with Selwyn Parata to Waitara for Maui Pomare Day. Both Ngata and Pomare were great New Zealanders. Ngata was a good National Party guy, too. It's important New Zealand remembers its heroes and that we celebrate the contribution those like Ngata and Pomare made to our country.

I don't need to tell you of Ngata's importance. He lived at a critical time for New Zealand. He was a scholar, author, farmer churchman, businessman and politician. His bust stands in the foyer of Parliament House. I walk past it every time I go into the debating chamber. Apparently he was a very witty man. Someone once stood up when he came up to the north of Auckland and said are you the Ngata who eats our cabbages? - and he said "No, I'm the Ngata who fulfils your aspirations".

I'm listed on the programme as giving a speech entitled "Treaty Settlements". A complex topic but, for its complexity, the story behind Treaty settlements is quite simple. There was a Treaty entered into in good faith and the Crown breached it. Sometimes it breached it in the most appalling ways. It stole and cheated iwi out of huge swathes of land. It went to Parihaka with troops who picked up people in peaceful protest, sacked the village, took the people to the South Island and put them in a cave with an iron grill near Dunedin. There many died of exposure.

And what about your neighbours, Ngai Tuhoe? For years, Tuhoe mistrusted the Crown and considered the Native Land Court regime divisive and expensive. In the late 19th Century they formed Te Whiti Tekau to protect their core lands. The Council rejected surveys, roading, prospecting, European settlement and the operation of the Native Land Court within its jurisdiction. In 1894, Dick Seddon visited Te Urewera, having almost drowned crossing Lake Waikaremoana, he participated in a hui that lasted long into the night. Shortly afterwards the District Native Reserve Act was passed. This unique piece of legislation recognised an area of land to be established as a reserve. I won't go into the detail of the Act. Suffice it to say that Te Urewera Maori could retain collective control over their lands. So what happened? Immediately after the legislation was passed, the Crown began to undermine it. Eventually the Crown repealed the Act in 1921 without consulting Tuhoe. Throughout the Twentieth Century, the involvement by Tuhoe in the Ureweras was gradually diminished.

Is it any wonder that there is a sense of hurt and distrust of the Crown? Yet how many New Zealanders actually understand these issues? I believe that if New Zealanders were properly appraised of the issues, they would understand why people behave the way they do, why there is such distrust, why when we talk about restoration of the honour of the Crown we're not talking weasel words but we are talking about something that is very important indeed. Our kind of Government is called to higher standards. If you don't deal with these things it festers and gets passed down the generations.

Someone said to me some years ago that Maori should just get over it, just as the Scots had to get over the land clearances in the early Nineteenth Century. But the fact is that the Scots haven't gotten over the land clearances. There is a deep seated dislike of the English. The same simmering grievances can be seen in the ancient hatreds of Serbia. I think Cicero was right: nescire autem quid ante quam natus sis acciderit, id est semper esse puerum. Not to know what happened before one was born is always to remain a child. Indeed, those who ignore history are condemned always to see the world as children. We've actually cottoned onto something quite special here about resolving historical grievances because if you don't resolve them justly and address them, they won't go away.

So the reason for Treaty settlements is obvious. We do so because it is the right thing to do. We do so because the Treaty was marginalised and made legally irrelevant. We do so because it is all we can do to atone for the past. The Crown promised to protect "the unqualified exercise of ... [Mäori] chieftainship over their lands, villages and ... treasures". It not only failed to perform that obligation but went out of its way to breach it. We must acknowledge that failure and that breach, and remain committed to putting things right, expeditiously; and that should continue as a firm, clear and unequivocal commitment: Kia tere, kia tika, kia oti.

There are still those who think otherwise. I have to deal with many of them as Minister for Treaty Negotiations. I simply tell them that they should ask how they'd feel if their assets were confiscated in contravention of a solemnly agreed obligation. They'd protest; they'd demand redress; and, if they failed, they'd make their kids promise to keep trying - and we wouldn't blame them.

I trained in the Treaty settlements area at the feet of the great O'Regan. We had a lot of fun together - I used to love going to the office in the morning when we were suing the Crown. Ngai Tahu mastered the art of aggressive litigation, whether it was suing the Waitangi Tribunal and Doug Graham or the Director-General of Conservation. It was take no prisoners and it resulted in a good settlement.

What I am talking about occurred in the early days of Treaty settlements. Everyone was a little uncertain about where things were going. Times have moved on. We're at a different stage in the resolution of Treaty grievances and litigation isn't quite as attractive nowadays. I suppose you'd expect me to say that because I'm Attorney-General and Minister of Treaty Negotiations. I don't want to be sued. Well, that's true - I don't. But I am anxious to try to achieve just and speedy settlements, not so the target of 2014 can be ticked off, but because I genuinely believe it's in the interests of iwi that these settlements occur sooner rather than later.

I remember the statement of claim which we drafted when we were going back to the Tribunal for Ngai Tahu seeking binding recommendations. We were claiming billions of dollars. Now there's no way that the state could have paid out billions of dollars. One must therefore be very careful not to overplay the economic equation. But though the sums are very small, they can help an iwi lay the foundations for economic success. Take my friends down South and where they've gone in the last few years. Ten years ago, very few corporate players in Christchurch would have known much about Ngai Tahu. Now they're major players in the South Island economy. Ngai Tahu Holdings has parlayed a $170 million settlement in 1998 to an asset portfolio of tourism, property, fisheries and investment worth $609 million (as of last year) with equity of almost $500 million. The total assets of the Waikato Raupatu Lands Trust Groups, the corporate entities of Waikato-Tainui, were $570 million last year. Last Saturday was an historic day. I was in Turangi at a ceremony to mark the transfer of the title to 90% of the Kaingaroa Forest to eight iwi.

The economic benefits of Treaty settlements are clear. But it isn't enough to simply sign agreements, celebrate the economic benefits, and say ‘there's another one ticked off', a phrase I find offensive. You don't tick off settlements and move onto something else. A Treaty settlement means there's a changed relationship. You keep in touch with iwi - so many iwi these days want regular meetings with the Crown about social services in their areas. After a settlement they want regular meetings to know how the settlement's going.

The Government has set a target of 2014 for settling historic Treaty claims. I'm confident we're heading in the right direction. On this, I'd like to make two points. First, both the Crown and iwi have to have generosity of spirit. I recognise at once the importance of equity between claimants but I think some people need to move beyond their own position in comparison with others and recognise that some of their neighbours have suffered particular losses which necessitate unique forms of relief. And if they get it, one would hope there would be generosity of spirit. Instead of saying, why did they get it and we didn't, I think the better approach is to rejoice they achieve a great settlement.

The second point I'd make is that this is a journey for all of us. We're in the era of co-management or co-governance. That's a long way away from where we were in the mid-1980s when Lord Cooke hadn't even given his judgment in the Maori Council case which called for consultation with iwi by the Crown. That's why a long-term view of the relationship needs to be taken. We are on the right path. All may not be achieved immediately. It may take five to ten years. It may take twenty years. I've always thought that for Treaty Settlements the song I Want it All is inappropriate. I prefer to look through the rest of Queen's catalogue and at great songs like Breakthru, Friends Will Be Friends, One Vision, and A Kind of Magic.

I've worked on both sides of the process. In the 1990s I worked for Ngai Tahu; now I serve the Crown. From the Crown's side, we have two imperatives: moral and economic. The economic benefits of Treaty settlements are significant but they are not the ultimate reason for the process. Treaty settlements are most of all a moral imperative for the government. They attempt to provide redress for genuine, documented historical wrongs committed by the Crown against New Zealanders in the past. Economic growth for the regions and the wider distribution of wealth are a consequence of the settlement process. But the government is committed to settlements to address the historical breaches of the Crown's obligation under the Treaty of Waitangi, to treat all people in this country fairly and with respect. I can think of nothing more important for the long term future of our country.