Over the past 48 hours one of the more interesting dramas of the Treaty of Waitangi settlements process played out at Kaitaia airport. Despite significant progress being made with Treaty of Waitangi negotiations over the seven years of this Government, it is a sign that tensions still exist and that the Crown still has some way to go towards resolving the intricacies of individual claims.
It started when a local Iwi, Ngati Kahu occupied the Kaitaia airport. They gave terminal staff five minutes to leave and began to erect temporary structures. The Police were called by the aiport management to move the protesters on. However, they dug in and stayed overnight. This afternoon, after a flight with medical supplies needed around the far north was delayed by protest action, the Police issued trespass orders and told the protesters to move or be arrested. Most moved, but five were arrested and will shortly face trespass charges in court.
The recent court decision follows the passage of the Te Hiku Claims Settlement Bill through to its third reading, which if successful would make it law. This would resolve all remaining Treaty of Waitangi grievances in the far north of New Zealand, except for Ngati Kahu, who seek to have their case heard again by the Treaty of Waitangi Tribunal. Ngati Kahu claim that the Minister of Treaty Negotiations, Chris Finlayson has ignored a decision by the Court to grant a second hearing.
Behind the claim is an old lease of airport land to the Government during World War 2, with the promise that it would be returned at the end of the war. That ended 70 years ago, and the land has not been returned. Half of the land is now on offer to Ngati Takoto, a neighbouring Iwi. Mr Finlayson says that the Iwi have agreed to a 50/50 split between them of the land. Ngati Kahu deny this. It is further exacerbated by a warning from Mr Finlayson that should no deal between Ngati Kahu and the Crown be reached by 2018, Ngati Takoto shall have sole claim to the land.
The Court ruling should stand. Mr Finlayson should give Ngati Kahu the rehearing that was promised. Otherwise the more militant wing of Ngati Takoto might try to reoccupy Kaitaia airport at the expense of the larger community.