Trouble in Ngapuhi as Government seeks treaty settlements by 2020


After months of growing unrest, the first signs of a potential implosion in the largest Maori tribe are emerging. Ngapuhi, the northern most Iwi (tribe), has long held out on settling its Treaty of Waitangi grievances with the Crown. But with the Crown setting a deadline to wind up treaty negotiations nationwide the Iwi has begun to splinter along Hapu (sub tribe) lines.

As a New Zealander I have taken time to understand the treaty settlements from both the perspective of the Iwi and their Hapu, as well as the Crown. I believe settling them needs to be fair, full, and final. By fair I mean that the Crown and the negotiating Iwi/Hapu are both happy with the final settlement. By full, I mean all applicable grievances have been addressed. By final, I mean both the Crown and the Iwi/Hapu accept that there is no changing or going back. This  is the only way forward and that failure to do so leaves the Crown, the Iwi whose settlement has collapsed and the New Zealand public at large worse off.

Ngapuhi’s ancestral lands cover Hokianga, the Bay of Islands and Whangarei. They have the largest affiliation of any Iwi and have 150 Hapu. Ngapuhi claim to have never ceded sovereignty to the British when the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, and this was backed up by a report resulting from an inquiry into the meaning and effect of the treaty for the Crown and Maori.

Whereas the other major Iwi have settled, or are in the later stage of settling their Treaty of Waitangi grievances with the Crown, Ngapuhi have stalled because of infighting and unfortunate incidents clouding the judgement of the Board. Tuhoronuku, which is the Board that was set up to oversee the allocation of the settlement is divided following years of infighting among the Hapu. This is angering the Government, which has set a deadline of 2020 to settle all Treaty negotiations and the Attorney General, Chris Finlayson has indicated he considers Tuhoronuku to have failed. A timeline of events goes something like this:

  • September 2008: Ngapuhi offered an early hearing into Treaty of Waitangi claim
  • March 2009: Treaty settlement process begins
  • August 2011: Ngapuhi vote on new board
  • March 2014: Infighting delaying treaty negotiations
  • June 2015: Ngapuhi chairman Sonny Tau caught with dead Kereru (protected birds)by Customs; fails to step down
  • September 2015: Claims emerge that Tuhoronuku is unfit to to oversee Ngapuhi treaty settlement; questions arise about (mis)use of $500,000 loan
  • October 2015: Tuhoronuku put on notice by Minister for Treaty Negotiations
  • September 2016: Renewed infighting as vote on how to proceed with treaty negotiations looms
  • September 2016: Minister tell Tuhoronuku it has failed; may sack/bypass the Board

Ngapuhi need to settle. The Iwi needs to stop fighting. It needs to unite behind a board and move forward. The longer it takes for this to happen, the costlier it will be for the Iwi, the Hapu, the Crown and ultimately New Zealand.

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