Towards the end of June this year, the Waitangi Tribunal released its report on the Wairarapa ki Tararua claims. The report addresses the historical claims that comprised the Tribunal’s inquiry into the Wairarapa ki Tararua district – an area that stretches from Norsewood, to Te Aho-a-Maui (Cape Turnagain) on the east coast, down to Kawakawa (Palliser Bay) southernmost part of the North Island. This report, therefore, marks the conclusion of another of the Tribunal’s large-scale district inquiries into historical Treaty of Waitangi claims.
People who are familiar with previous Tribunal reports of this nature will have some sense of the dispossession experienced by Māori since the 19th century. As the Tribunal itself notes “Everywhere you go in New Zealand, the stories of the colonial encounter have much in common”. Nevertheless, the details of these stories are particular to the communities involved. The Tribunal identified a number of themes to the claims in this inquiry that were distinctive:
- “The leasing experiment” – the Tribunal noted the pattern of land-leasing that occurred in the 1840s and early 1850s. In these arrangements, Māori communities would lease land to sheep farmers, with both parties able to generate reasonable returns. Significantly, such arrangements did not, of course, entail the complete alienation of Māori land and the Tribunal suggests that this leasehold economy may have provided quite a different basis for colonial interaction had the Crown not intervened.
- “The komiti nui and what came after” – the komiti nui was a large meeting held in southern Wairarapa in 1853, which the Tribunal identified as pivotal in terms of Māori opinion of both the settler government and the benefits of land sales. Governor George Grey and Crown land purchase agent Donald McLean both spoke at this meeting. “They would use images such as a marriage between two peoples, painting a future together in which many good things would flow to Māori completely over and above the purchase price.” McLean subsequently purchased vast areas of land in the district, but the benefits to Māori, spoken of at the komiti nui, were never realised.
- “Wairarapa Moana” – under the relevant purchase deeds, Māori were to retain control over key waterways, Lake Wairarapa and Ōnoke, which included a significant eel fishery. Māori leaders pursued virtually every means at their disposal to have their rights to these waters recognised, but were ultimately unsuccessful in this endeavour. Instead, the Crown awarded them “30,000 pumiceous acres at Pouākani, hundreds of miles from home in another iwi’s rohe”.
- “The Kotahitanga movement” – Wairarapa chiefs played an influential role in the Kotahitanga movement in the late 19th century, which aimed to develop policies related to Māori, and, in particular, the management of Māori land that engaged the settler state but was driven by Māori.
- “Te Tapere-nui-ā-Whātonga” – Te Tapere-nui-ā-Whātonga (Seventy Mile Bush) was, at one time, a body of incredibly dense lowland forest. This area of forest was central to the lives of local Māori. The government sponsored programme of clearing and felling in the latter part of the 19th century soon transformed this forest. The consequences were profound for Māori in the area, and even more so for the now extinct huia, whose habitat had been destroyed.
- “The speed of change” – the Tribunal notes that the speed of these changes in this district was dramatic: “…from the 1850s to 1860s, tangata whenua there went from being landlords who roamed at will through an expansive territory comprising coastal and inland domain to pleading with Government to fulfil promises of small reserves as settlers flooded in to take up all the land the Crown had just bought.”
The Tribunal’s findings and recommendations in relation to Crown actions and the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi are set out in full in Chapter 15 of the report, which is available here. These include findings that:
- The Crown did not exercise in good faith its legal right to control all transactions in customary land between British subjects and Māori;
- Making leases illegal so that Māori had no alternatives to sale if they wanted the benefit of settlement was neither fair nor reasonable;
- …the Crown’s abandonment of good purchasing practice in the Wairarapa purchases…undermined the capacity of Māori to make informed community decisions. This was a diminution of te tino rangatiratanga, and breached the Treaty. The practices described, which were adopted by McLean and continued by his successors, were the antithesis of what was required – that is, a process that provided for free, willing, and informed consent, a fundamental requirement of article 2 of the Treaty…;
- …in failing to reserve adequate land for Māori, the Crown breached its duty actively to protect Māori interests. Māori were prejudiced in that the Crown’s meagre provisions effectively precluded their engaging with the settler economy, except as wage labourers and subsistence farmers;
- …none of the education that the Crown provided met the needs of Māori children…This was a signal breach of promise, given the Crown’s reliances on promises of (inter alia) education as a means of persuading Wairarapa Māori to let the Crown purchase their land, and open up the district to settlement;
- [citing the Tribunal’s findings in the Central North Island inquiry] In failing to incorporate Kotahitanga into the machinery of the State, and share power with Māori in a meaningful way at the central level, the Crown acted in serious breach of the Treaty;
- In numerous ways, Māori property rights were overridden, disregarded, and dishonoured during the events that led to the transfer of ownership of Lakes Wairarapa and Ōnoke (and their surrounds) from tangata whenua to the Crown, and Wairarapa Māori subsequently taking ownership of land at Pouākani instead…the Crown’s conduct amounts to a grievous breach of its obligations to act towards its Treaty partner with the utmost good faith...;
- …the compulsory acquisition of Māori land for public works in Wairarapa ki Tararua breached article 2 of the Treaty of Waitangi. No acquisitions in the district met the test of being required in circumstances where the national interest was at stake and where there were no other options.
Those are just some of the key findings of the Tribunal in this inquiry, but I would encourage anyone who is interested in these issues to take a look at the full report, which marks a further substantial contribution from the Waitangi Tribunal to the process of addressing breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi and moving towards reconciliation.