Deed settlement 'powerful milestone' for Wairoa iwi

4:15 pm on 26 May 2016

Wairoa iwi have initialled their deed of settlement with the Crown as a powerful milestone in addressing the terrible injustices inflicted.

Negotiator Pauline Tongiaroa initals the Deed of Settlement (far right).

Negotiator Pauline Tongiaroa initals the Deed of Settlement (far right). Photo: RNZ / Laura Bootham

More than three decades after Wairoa lodged its claims with the Waitangi Tribunal, the iwi is set to secure $100 million as well as cultural redress.

It was a momentous day for the kuia, kaumatua and whānau who flew from Wairoa in northen Hawkes Bay to Wellington to ensure they were part of the process of negotiation that had gone on since the 1980s.

Treaty Negotiations minister Chris Finlayson said mana whenua there had endured grievances that were 'very, very serious'. He said those were grounded in the 'loss of the vast majority of their lands'.

Pauline Tangiora was a negotiator since the outset and said the event was very moving, with the Crown admitting its wrongdoings being the thing she treasured the most.

"It's not the money for me, it is the case that the government has acknowledged and accepted that they had not fulfilled their obligations in the last 175 years."

The esteemed kuia hoped future generations, including Pākehā, would learn about the Crown's transgressions and the settlement.

"It is a token gesture, but for me it will be written into history of what the government did and if we hadn't had this hearing it would never have been written into history for our children of the future to be able to say 'oooh this has been done'.

"I believe Pākehā should read the history of what happened and the mamae will always remain, but we must move on for our children and the future."

Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson acknowledged Pauline Tangiora's contribution, describing her as "tough, principled and you take her on at your own risk'.

He said she had provided great leadership.

Mr Finlayson also acknowledged the Crown's confiscation and exploitation of the tribe's lands and said there had been intense military campaigns conducted against Wairoa that led to socio-economic deprivation that still existed.

"The foundations of these grievances are that the Crown did not take Te Tiriti of Waitangi to the Wairoa rohe so the iwi and hapū had limited opportunity to consider whether or not to sign it.

"The Crown did not always adequately survey the blocks it purchased or fully investigate who had customary rights to them nor did it set aside adequate reserves.

He said the outbreak of the war that began with the Crown attack on Christmas Day 1865 resulted in severe loss of life and property and the iwi and hapū who opposed the Crown were unfairly labelled as 'rebels'.

"In April 1867 some Wairoa Māori agreed under duress to cede 42,000 acres to the Crown, some people from the iwi and hapū who did not consent to the cession had their interests effectively confiscated. In 1875 the Crown acquired 178,000 acres of land near Lake Waikaremoana by exploiting confusion about the legal status of the blocks."

"Since the 1870s the Crown has compulsorarily taken more than 500 acres for public works purposes... every (Treaty) settlement involves the dreaded Public Works Act.

Mr Finlayson noted since 2001 nearly 90 percent of the iwi and hapū lived outside the rohe and many of those who remained suffered from very serious social and economic deprivation.

Tamati Olsen hongi with Peter Fraser from the Office of Treaty Settlements.

Tamati Olsen hongi with Peter Fraser from the Office of Treaty Settlements. Photo: RNZ / Laura Bootham

Te Tira Chairman Tāmati Olsen said if ratified, the financial redress would make it the fifth biggest Treaty settlement.

"It's the last significant milestone before we get into the last furlong on the home straight, so yeah, very rapt, very excited that we've managed to get to this stage.

"Our goal has always been to achieve the best result for our iwi and hapū, and we believe this settlement will allow us to move towards a better future - economically, socially and culturally."

"We want everyone to be a part of this; it's our chance to build a better future for our whānau, our tamariki, and all the generations after them," Mr Olsen said.

Carwyn Jones is a negotiator for Wairoa and a law lecturer at Victoria University.

Dr Jones said the ceremony was very satisfying after a long journey to get there.

'There's been a lot of hard work and sometimes tense discussion both with the government and amongst ourselves because these are hard questions.

"There was no guarantee when we set out at the beginning of this that we would reach any kind of agreement, so in that sense I feel really proud of the work that we've done to get there as a community.

"It feels like we're now on course to get to a conclusion."

Following the initialling, a ratification process will run through until about September.