Hopes that Crown settlement will dispel Moriori myths

7:29 am on 14 August 2019

Moriori leaders reaching a settlement with the Crown say they hope it gets rid of the myths colonisation has caused to their people.

Group of Moriori members and crown representatives at today's settlement.

Group of Moriori members and crown representatives at today's settlement. Photo: RNZ / Māni Dunlop

The Moriori people of Rēkohu, or the Chatham Islands, have initialled their Deed of Settlement after three years of negotiations.

The redress includes a Crown apology, agreed historical account and cultural and commercial redress of $18 million for historical breaches of the Treaty.

Chief negotiator, Maui Horomona (Solomon), described it as a historic day for his iwi but especially for the mokopu, or next generation.

He said he hoped this settlement will get rid of the stigma many Moriori face.

"I was told by my social studies teacher when I was about 13 that there were no such things as Moriori, that you're a myth, I said 'but sir, my grandfather was a full blooded Moriori, he said no such thing - that is a very common story for a lot of our people and there are still many who believe that myth but I think this settlement will help set the record straight because it will be part of legislation, it will be part of our law."

Mr Horomona said it would also get rid of the unfortunately well known myth that Māori drove out Moriori, in an attempt by Pākehā to justify colonisation.

"Māori have been portrayed as driving Moriori out of NZ, that didn't happen, so it's not just Moriori who have suffered its Māori who have suffered too and that was because of the colonial need to justify their colonisation of Māori that supposedly Māori colonised Moriori - it didn't happen that way but it became a powerful myth that five or six of generations of New Zealanders were taught at school and many of the old people still believe it today, so i think it's a lot of laying ghosts to rest in this settlement."

In 1862, 33 Moriori signed a 131-page petition to Governer George Grey asking for their land rights and to be released from slavery.

They had lived on the island for 800 years or more and had a population of 2500 people but by 1862 that had plummeted to 120 due to colonisation and Ngāti Tama and Ngāti Mutunga who invaded the islands.

Moriori had lived by an ancient code of peace that outlawed warfare.

According to the Moriori Imi Settlement Trust, in 1870 the Native Land Court was set up on the Islands and over 97 percent was awarded to Ngāti Mutunga based on the colonial notion of 'conquest' and Moriori were left with small uneconomic reserves insufficient to sustain themselves.

Moriori never accepted that there had been a legitimate 'conquest' as they had upheld their ancient law of peace after making a conscious decision not to fight and kill the invaders, but this was ignored by the Native Land Court. The Waitangi Tribunal that heard claims from Moriori and Ngāti Mutunga o Wharekauri in 1994-95 found in favour of Moriori and that Moriori mana and customary rights remained intact and that they should have received "at least 50 percent of the land in 1870."

Mr Horomona said it's been a long wait of more than 150 years for justice, especially for his karapūna who first petitioned the government.

But he told those gathered at the signing that this settlement is also for them.

"I am honoured to have two of my children here - they represent a generation of Moriori growing up to be proud of being Morirori, not to be embarrassed, not to be ashamed, I think that is the greatest gift that this settlement will give to our people.

"This settlement will also show what our karapūna (ancestors) sacrificed, what they believed in has as much value and merit today, perhaps even more than it did in their day so they know that they didn't die in vain and that their legacy lives on through us."

Mr Horomona's son, Tama, said he has been bought up to be honoured to carry Moriori whakapapa.

"Dad always told me to be proud of who you are, and I am extremely proud of being Moriori and today is an extremely proud moment to be a Moriori, being here and signing it, almost on behalf of the younger generation, was really special."

He now has his sights set on revitalising the language of his ancestors.

"There is an opportunity for someone to be the champion, so to speak, of revitalising the reo and that could be an avenue to pursue in the future, I think that would be really cool."

Last week the high court threw out an injunction by Ngāti Mutunga o Wharekauri to stop the initialling of the settlement, arguing they are mana whenua - despite invading the island.

Minister for Treaty Negotiations Andrew Little said he would continue to work on the Crown's relationship with Ngāti Mutunga.

However, he said today's milestone is the beginning of a new relationship with Moriori.

"What happened to Moriori historically is probably one of the most challenging things to happen to any Māori population in NZ and this has been a really long journey to recognise what happened to them and for the Crown to recognise its failings, its failure to protect which its required to do under the Treaty to come to terms with that and provide some redress."

The deed of settlement will be taken back to Imi or iwi members to be ratified and is expected to be passed into law early next year.