The Waitangi Tribunal is scheduled to release the final report on its long-running Indigenous Flora and Fauna and Cultural and Intellectual Property inquiry on Saturday, 2 July. Commonly known by its original claim reference number, Wai 262, the inquiry has also been referred to as “the grandfather of all Treaty claims” because of the fundamental nature and broad-ranging scope of the issues that it addresses. A statement of issues produced by the Waitangi Tribunal in 2006 identified key questions around intellectual property and taonga; biological and genetic resources in indigenous species; the protection and promotion of tikanga, matauranga, and te reo Māori; and a range of matters concerning the claimant groups’ relationships with the natural environment.
The original claim was lodged with the Tribunal in 1991. To say that the report has been long-awaited is therefore something of an understatement. Although dealing with generic issues that are of concern to Māori throughout the country, the inquiry has focused on the specific claims of six iwi: Te Rarawa, Ngati Kuri, Ngati Wai, Ngati Porou, Ngati Kahungunu, and Ngati Koata.
The first hearings in the Wai 262 inquiry were held in 1997 and tangata whenua evidence was heard at a series of hearings from that point through until 2001. Evidence from expert witnesses and Tribunal commissioned researchers was also heard. Sadly, the original presiding officer in the Wai 262 inquiry, Judge Richard Kearney, died in 2005. The then Waitangi Tribunal chairperson, and now a judge of the High Court, Joe Williams took over the inquiry at that point and presided over something of a re-organization of the inquiry, framed by the 2006 Statement of Issues. Hearings resumed in August 2006 with Crown evidence presented in December 2006 and January 2007. Closing submissions were heard in June 2007.
Touching, as it does, on such a wide-range of issues, the report’s recommendations could have potentially significant ramifications for policy across the whole of government.
The complexity and range of issues addressed have obviously contributed to the length of this inquiry. It has been a long and, at times, frustrating road for all those involved in the inquiry over the last 20 years. As noted in a recent Herald article the release of the Tribunal’s report on Saturday will be anticipated with some excitement but also with sadness as thoughts turn to those who have made valuable contributions over the course of this inquiry but have since passed on – including members of the claimant communities, claimant lawyers, and Tribunal members. It is of particular sadness that only one of the six original claimants in this inquiry has lived to see the release of the Tribunal’s report.
The report will be available on the Waitangi Tribunal’s website from Saturday morning and I will write a post on the contents of the report once I have had an opportunity to read it.