The settlement of Treaty of Waitangi claims continued at pace during the 170th year of the Treaty relationship.
The Crown signed Terms of Negotiation with NgāiTakoto (a Far North iwi based around Kaitaia and the Aupouri Peninsula) and Ngā Punawai o te Tokotoru (a group comprised of three Te Arawa iwi: Ngati Rangiteaorere, Tapuika and Ngati Rangiwewehi). Terms of Negotiation provide the guidelines under which negotiations between settling groups and the Crown will proceed. For completeness, it should be noted that the Terms of Negotiation agreed with Ngā Punawai o te Tokotoru amend Terms previously signed with Tapuika and Ngati Rangiwewehi in 2008 so as to include Ngati Rangiteaorere. NgāiTakoto has also recently progressed to the next stage in the settlement process and signed an agreement in principle as one of five iwi that comprise the Te Hiku Forum.
Agreements in principles or letters of agreement were signed with eight different Māori groups, representing seventeen iwi. These agreements provide a broad outline of an agreed settlement package. On the basis of that broad outline, the parties then work towards agreeing Deeds of Settlement which set out the details of the settlement redress. Over the course of the last year, Deeds of Settlement were signed with Ngāti Manawa, Ngāti Whare, and Waikato-Tainui (the latter specifically addressing claims in relation to the Waikato River). A Deed of ‘on account’ Settlement (agreeing specific matters prior to a comprehensive settlement) was also signed with Whanganui Iwi. Furthermore, legislation to implement the settlement of the Port Nicholson Block claims was enacted and the transfer in July of approximately $450 million in land and cash to eight Central North island Iwi completed the Central North Island Forestry Settlement.
During 2009, the Government also consulted representatives of Māori groups on proposals to speed up the settlement process and make it more efficient.
The progress of Treaty settlements is heartening. As are attempts to speed up the settlement process. Nobody would like to see the speedy conclusion of Treaty settlements more than Māori. The return of lands and the provision of symbolic compensation can provide a foundation from which settling groups may begin to rebuild an economic base, which so many Māori groups have had taken from them in breach of the principles of the Treaty. That rebuilding cannot happen soon enough.
But we should also proceed cautiously in this area if we want to ensure these settlements are durable and contribute to a wider project of reconciliation. The Canadian sociologist, Andrew Woolford, has studied the treaty process that is underway in British Columbia. Despite the different historical contexts, the British Columbia process of modern treaty negotiations with First Nations has many similarities with the Treaty of Waitangi settlement negotiations in New Zealand. In his 2005 book, Between Justice and Certainty, Woolford argues that if too little attention is paid to the justice of settlements because the the primary objective is seen as being to agree pragmatic deals as quickly as possible, then the injustice is not properly addressed and the settlements are unlikely to be ‘full and final’. We can see this sentiment reflected in recently reported comments from Ngati Kahu negotiator, Margaret Mutu when she suggests that none of the settlements Maori have made with the Crown are final, and future generations will go back to the Crown for more. And this on the eve of Mutu signing an agreement in principle with the Crown on behalf of Ngati Kahu as part of the Te Hiku Forum.
Perhaps instead of focusing on ways to conclude settlements faster, we should consider more carefully what is actually required to properly redress breaches of the Treaty and develop a strong foundation for a healthy, on-going Treaty relationship.