25 May 2014

Ngapuhi on slow path to settlement

6:07 am on 25 May 2014

Ngapuhi - the biggest and the poorest iwi in the country - is the last to have its grievances heard by the Waitangi Tribunal. Earlier this year it was thought the process may be fast-tracked, when Prime Minister John Key said at Waitangi he was keen to see a deal struck with the iwi. But an Insight investigation has found that a settlement is unlikely this year.

Little Motu Island, off Cape Brett, part of the claim by Ngapuhi.

Little Motu Island, off Cape Brett, part of the claim by Ngapuhi. Photo: RNZ

A deal with Ngapuhi would mark the beginning of a new post-settlement era for Maori and the Crown. John Key even offered a down-payment on what could be a $250 million quantum if Ngapuhi leaders could set aside their differences and reach an agreement in principle with the Crown in 2014.

But Minister of Treaty Settlements Chris Finlayson says the chances of that happening now seem remote.

In February, Mr Finlayson and Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples accepted the mandate claimed by Tuhoronuku, a board of the Ngapuhi runanga, to represent the tribe in negotiations.

The runanga, under chairman Sonny Tau, has worked for 6 years to secure the approval of Ngapuhi to settle the claim, holding hui all over New Zealand and across the Tasman to explain the process and register tribal members.

Ngapuhi descendants number at least 120,000 - 60 percent live in Auckland and other parts of New Zealand, and many thousands in Australia.

29,000 voting packs went out to people over 18, and 23 percent - about 6600 - came back.

Of those voters, 76 percent - that's about 5000 - voted for Tuhoronuku to go ahead with a settlement. Tuhoronuku says that's a resounding "yes" for settlement, and the crown says it's comparable with mandates it's accepted for other iwi.

But Ngapuhi hapu alliance Te Kotahitanga says it's a very small minority of eligible voters and when the Crown called for submissions on the mandate last year, 63 percent were opposed.

Pita Tipene, a Ngati Hine leader, is concerned about hapu members from overseas, who are out of the loop, being nominated for seats.

Ngati Hine chairman, Pita Tipene Photo: RNZ

Sonny Tau says delays in settling the claim are keeping the country's poorest tribe poor, while other iwi, which settled years ago, are forging ahead and reclaiming the economic base they enjoyed before colonisation.


The Northland hapu alliance, including the prominent sub-tribe Ngati Hine, say while they want to settle too, the runanga is not the right vehicle to control or receive any part of the settlement.

For Ngati Hine, distrust of the runanga began with a row over fisheries money.

In 2004, The Fisheries Act gave Ngati Hine the right to separate from the runanga and become an iwi in its own right, with a share of Ngapuhi's $60 million fisheries settlement held by the runanga.

Ngati Hine says the runanga has blocked every attempt by Ngati Hine to achieve iwi status and gain access to the assets.

For its part, the runanga says it's continually asked Ngati Hine to prove its membership numbers and it's failed to do so.

The underlying tension has erupted in the last few months, with the election of a new board to direct the Treaty settlement.

Under the terms of the mandate, the runanga trustees on Tuhoronuku, including Mr Tau, must step down and hold elections for a new independent version of Tuhoronuku.

The hapu say the process is tearing whanau apart.

Sharon Kaipo, a kuia from Mangakahia, says her two hapu voted to reject Tuhoronuku and take no part in its elections.

But the rules have allowed distant relatives who've done none of the heavy-lifting of the hapu's claims to be nominated to represent it.

Pita Tipene, a Ngati Hine leader, says his hapu's taking court action against Tuhoronuku, yet whanaunga that no-one's seen for decades and now live in Sydney and Vanuatu are being nominated for seats to settle Ngati Hine claims they know nothing about.

Protesters in Whangarei.

Hapu have taken to the streets of Whangerei in protest over the mandate. Photo: RNZ

Distant relatives

But for many Ngapuhi families living in Australia the prospect of a settlement is one to celebrate.

At a hui in Sydney's Wairua Tapu church last month, Tuhoronuku found passionate support - in striking contrast to some of the rowdy receptions they've had back home.

One woman said she was unhappy at first that Tuhoronuku was campaigning for support in Australia, when the hapu at home had major objections to its mandate.

But she changed her mind after she went home to Kaikohe to work for a spell as a school nurse and saw close up the poverty of the home people, their ill-health and their apathy.

Chris Barber, who was born and raised in Moerewa, has been in Australia for 14 years.

The construction project manager is now a leader of the Maori community in Sydney and for him a settlement is needed as soon as possible - not for the sake of whanau in Australia, but for the whanau at home.

Chris Barber says he and thousands of Ngapuhi families work in Australia to put food on the table and clothes on their backs, and a Treaty settlement would ultimately let the people at home in Northland do that too.


The kuia Titewhai Harawira, a trustee of Tuhoronuku and staunch supporter of the mandate, says those views are shared by the quiet majority of Ngapuhi people.

She says the people who've disrupted Tuhoronuku hui in the north and in Auckland simply don't want others to hear information that would allow them to understand the settlement process.

The prominent Kerikeri hapu, Ngati Rehia, is also backing the mandate.

A leading kuia, Nora Rameka, says it was not an easy decision to make - but it was a strategic one .

A leading kuia from the Kerikeri hapu, Ngati Rehia, is backing the Tuhoronuku mandate.

A leading kuia from the Kerikeri hapu, Ngati Rehia, is backing the Tuhoronuku mandate. Photo: RNZ

She says the deciding factors were the increase in hapu seats on Tuhoronuku, the assurance that it will become independent of the runanga after the elections, and the government assurance that the Waitangi Tribunal hearings in the north will run their full course, even if negotiations begin.

But the hapu alliance is aiming to stop Tuhoronuku in its tracks.

In the last fortnight, a dozen hapu have joined an action by the alliance and Ngati Hine, asking the Waitangi Tribunal for an urgent hearing on the mandate.

The Minister, Chris Finlayson, met Ngati Hine in Whangarei this month and says he is not ruling out - or in - a separate settlement for that hapu.

He says he is keeping a close eye on the Tuhoronuku election process, and he will review the mandate when the final results of those elections are announced in July.

But he says he no longer expects to get into negotiations with Ngapuhi in 2014.

The Waitangi Tribunal will meet at Waitangi in June to consider the hapu request for an urgent hearing.