31 Mar 2021

Waitangi Tribunal decision over return of Māori land likely to be appealed

11:20 am on 31 March 2021

A landmark High Court ruling that overturns a Waitangi Tribunal decision to return land to an iwi that was not mana whenua is likely to be appealed.

Ngāumu Forest in Wairarapa

Ngāumu Forest in Wairarapa is one of the areas dealt with in the Waitangi Tribunal's preliminary decision. Photo: Google Maps

The Waitangi Tribunal decision, made on 24 March 2020, said the Ngāumu Forest in Wairarapa and Pouākani in the central North Island should be returned to Ngāti Kahungunu as a remedy for historic breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi.

However, the High Court has agreed with those challenging that decision, stating that the Tribunal did not have the power to make that call.

The Court upheld a claim by the Raukawa Settlement Trust that it was wrong for the Tribunal to order the Pouākani lands to Ngāti Kahungunu because they were not mana whenua. It also upheld the Tribunal had wrongly assessed the compensation to be provided with the return of the Ngāumu Forest.

Raukawa Settlement Trust executive chairperson Vanessa Eparaima said the Waitangi Tribunal's preliminary decision on the issue was discouraging.

Raukawa Settlement Trust chairperson Vanessa Eparaima.

Vanessa Eparaima. Photo: Raukawa Settlement Trust

"We hold the Tribunal up to be that court, that institution that upholds the Treaty of Waitangi Act and so this preliminary decision was very disappointing."

Eparaima said in 1915 Raukawa land was gifted to the people of Kahungunu ki Wairarapa "to compensate in some way for the taking of Lake Wairarapa and Lake Ōnoke".

Raukawa agrees that that should be compensated through the Treaty of Settlement process, she said.

"But then to have an application from Wairarapa Moana Incorporation wanting to access further land in our takiwā [territory] was just beyond belief."

The fact the decision was only preliminary allowed them to go ahead with a judicial review, she said.

Eparaima said they have been in the Tribunal process for more than two years now and it is the second time they have been to the High Court.

"First time being where the Tribunal thought to, well let's just say remove us from the proceedings, saying that we were a post-settlement government entity and that we shouldn't be allowed to contribute at those proceedings, even though the land in question is in our takiwā."

Eparaima said the Waitangi Tribunal will now have to consider what it is going to do in relation to the Ngāumu Forest decision.

"We also expect that given the now value of the land, that that decision will probably be appealed."

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