23 Oct 2020

Andrew Little to prioritise Ngāpuhi if retained as Minister

8:29 am on 23 October 2020

Labour's Andrew Little wants to give the Treaty Negotiations portfolio another crack, saying his priority will be to reach a settlement with the country's largest iwi Ngāpuhi if he's retained as Minister.

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Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

It's something he and his predecessors have failed to do in over a decade, and whānau warn the Crown will keep getting nowhere unless something new is brought to the table.

Andrew Little's historic speech at Waitangi earlier this year, completely in te reo Māori, blew many people from the Far North iwi away.

Hinerangi Himiona was there that day and said his kōrero gave her hope.

"Andrew Little said some almost unbelievable things recognising hapū rangatiratanga, recognising the importance and place of He Whakaputanga and we have become very wary of what comes out of Minister's mouths and out of the Crown," she said.

"I'm sure many Ngāpuhi people listening that day and since have been quite surprised and certainly my hapū are looking forward to what that all means."

But the Uri Taniwha hapū spokesperson said after so many years - and so many promises - it was going to take a lot more than words to unify Ngāpuhi and get a treaty settlement across the line.

"I think people have just assumed this was a given because we haven't actually heard anyone say this before, but I think the thing that is going to help us continue, is that the Crown through Te Arawhiti, through the Minister, through the Minster's staff look really closely at how they're treating us," they said.

"I think since 1840 there's been an expectation that there would be fairness and justice afforded to both iwi Māori, hapū and the Crown. I think our people have always afforded the Crown a level of fairness and respect but we haven't received the same... if that's in the room then we might actually get somewhere."

Ngāpuhi has more than 100 registered sub-tribes or hapū, but the Crown has persistently insisted it will only negotiate a single commercial settlement for the entire iwi.

Ngāti Hine spokesperson Pita Tipene said hapū wanted to retain their independence, their rangatiratanga, and a single settlement just wouldn't cut it.

"Look, there can't be a single commercial settlement and the Ngāpuhi settlement table keeps putting people into one slot. That's going to continue to be the problem, and whoever the new Minister is has to come in with some fresh thinking," he said.

"We want a Minister who is going to listen, because it seems that it doesn't matter how many of the hapū tell the government and the Minister, the more they stay in an entrenched position."

Hinerangi Himiona agreed - and said the new government's Minister must be willing to negotiate on their terms.

"It's far more convenient just to give a lump sum, and hand it over and say, 'you guys sort it out now,'" she said.

"That's not a way to negotiate with people that you've done wrong against."

Andrew Little is determined to work through every challenge alongside hapū, in a process that is fair.

He admitted he hadn't always got it right, but he wasn't giving up.

"It's been the most challenging portfolio and the most rewarding portfolio," he said.

"It's had some of the hardest issues I've had to deal with but again, what I've found so rewarding in the engagement with iwi and learning the stories."

Little has made some massive changes this year to make the settlement process easier, including making half a million dollars available for hapū to meet for hui and wananga.

Up until now, many have had to reach into their own pockets to do that.

Work is also underway to set up a Crown office in Kaikohe to provide dedicated support for hapū - and Mr Little has previously indicated he is happy to break into smaller groups when it comes to negotiating cultural redress.

But he said with so many hapū situated in a relatively small space, and the risk of overlapping claims, it was still his preference to negotiate a single commercial settlement.

"It's kind of the only preference we have about anything, but in the end this is a negotiation and we have to listen and be respectful. We want to reach an agreement and we will only reach an agreement when everybody is on the same page," he said.

But getting on the same page, with both sides unwilling to budge on the issue of the Crown's desire to negotiate a single commercial settlement, makes that seem as unlikely as ever.

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