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Settlement approach ‘slap in the face’

Ngati Kahungunu’s settlement bill’s first reading reading at Parliament on May 11, 2022. PHOTO/FILE

Wairarapa Moana has called the Crown’s approach to the WAI85 settlement a “slap in the face to natural justice” after Friday’s Maori Select Committee.

Wairarapa Moana represents Maori land in the central North Island [Pouakani] to replace their land in South Wairarapa which it said was taken by the Crown.

The organisation called for an urgent hearing by the Waitangi Tribunal last year arguing that WAI85 should not be included in the wider Ngati Kahungunu settlement.

“Wairarapa Moana has been seeking a direct return of the land at Pouakani through the tribunal through what is known as a resumption order. The Supreme Court heard an appeal on that matter in February but reserved its decision.”

Ngati Kahungunu ki Wairarapa’s settlement deed was ratified in 2018.

The Settlement Trust and the Crown signed a deed of settlement in late October 2021, hoping to end decades of deliberation.

By November 2021, Wairarapa Moana ki Pouakani Incorporation [Wai 3058], Ngai Tumupuhia-a-Rangi hapu [Wai 429], and the Rangitane Tu Mai Ra Trust [Wai 3068] had succeeded in having an urgent hearing through the Waitangi Tribunal.

The tribunal said all three groups had argued that the Crown had decided to sign the deed of settlement with the Settlement Trust on bases that were “unfair or wrong”.

They argued that the Crown had proceeded with “undue haste” to resolve matters with the Settlement Trust without involving them and that the Crown had been unwilling to stop to mend matters with them.

Now, Wairarapa Moana has argued at Friday’s select committee that the government was continuing to push through the treaty settlement without addressing “serious flaws” in it.

It called the push a “slap in the face to natural justice and rank hypocrisy from the Crown”.

It said in late 2021, the Waitangi Tribunal found the Crown had proceeded in “error” because there was no mandate to settle the WAI85 and WAI429 claims within the wider iwi settlement. It said the advice the Minister relied on was flawed.

“The Minister’s response was to simply reject the tribunal’s findings and say he didn’t agree with them. No expert advice or high-level review. No waiting for the Supreme Court decision on our case. Just a denial of natural justice, again,” Wairarapa Moana chairman Kingi Smiler said.

Smiler said the tribunal had stated that findings “depict a flawed and unfair settlement process for which the Crown is responsible”.

The tribunal recommended the Crown postpone the introduction of settlement legislation, allow the litigation to take its course, and help the iwi resolve conflicts it has played a part in causing during the settlement process.

Smiler said eight months after the Waitangi Tribunal published its report, the Crown continued to push on with the wider settlement and “is effectively trying to bury the flaws identified by the tribunal within it”.

He said the Crown’s policies demanded a strong, proven mandate from iwi at every step of the treaty settlement process.

“But now when it doesn’t suit it, it ignores its own rules for political expediency. That’s rank hypocrisy.”

Smiler said his concerns were being reiterated on Friday and none of the flaws in the bill had yet been fixed.

Ngati Kahungunu ki Wairarapa Tamaki Nui-a-Rua Settlement Trust chairman Haami Te Whaiti said in his opening submission at the hearing that the trust strongly supported the bill, and hoped it moved through Parliament as swiftly as possible.

“We want the committee to understand we have no more resources, no more time, and no more blood to invest in this process.”

He said the bill represented over three decades of hard work since its first claims were lodged in 1989.

Te Whaiti said the settlement included the return of over 9000 hectares of culturally significant land, returned as a redress.

The bill would also include an apology from the Crown for its breaches and the struggles of Ngati Kahungunu’s ancestors.

Te Whaiti said the bill would allow the purchase of the Wairio and Rangedale stations to return the land to Ngati Kahungunu.

Grace Prior
Grace Prior
Grace Prior is a senior reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with a keen interest in environmental issues. Grace is the paper’s health reporter and regularly covers the rural sector, weather, Greater Wellington Regional Council, and coastal stories.

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