The quantification of property loss, personal injury, social impairment, and forfeited development opportunities may assist the consideration of comparative equities between claimant groups, but it is not necessarily determinative of the measures appropriate for relief in any one case today. As we consider further at the end of this report, in resolving historical claims a pay-off for the past, even if that were possible, may not be as important as the strategies required to ensure a better future.
—The Waitangi Tribunal
When The Taranaki Report: Kaupapa Tuatahi was released in 1996, it was hailed by many as one of the Tribunal's most important reports. Indeed, the Minister in Charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations at the time, the Honourable Doug Graham, urged all New Zealanders to read it. The report dealt with 21 claims concerning the Taranaki district and canvassed the land wars and confiscations in the area, as well as the story of Parihaka.
The Tribunal constituted to hear the claims was made up of Chief Judge Eddie Durie (presiding), Bishop Manuhuia Bennett, Emarina Manuel, Professor Gordon Orr, and Professor Keith Sorrenson. Twelve hearings were held between September 1990 and June 1995, and the report was presented to the Minister of Maori Affairs and the claimants on 11 June 1996.
The Taranaki claims could be the largest in the country. There may be no others where as many Treaty breaches had equivalent force and effect over a comparable time. 'For the Taranaki hapu, conflict and struggle have been present since the first European settlement in 1841. There has been continuing expropriation by various means from purchase assertions to confiscation after war. In this context, the war itself is not the main grievance. The pain of war can soften over time. Nor is land the sole concern. The real issue is the relationship between Maori and the Government. It is today, as it has been for 155 years, the central problem.
—The Waitangi Tribunal
The complaints stemmed from land confiscations that took place during the 1860s wars, which began in Taranaki before extending elsewhere. In fact, armed initiatives did not cease in the region for an unparalleled nine years, and the Tribunal commented on the effect that this had on local Maori:
If war is the absence of peace, the war has never ended in Taranaki, because that essential prerequisite for peace among peoples, that each should be able to live with dignity on their own lands, is still absent and the protest over land rights continues to be made.
The confiscations came with an undertaking that the lands necessary for hapu survival would be returned without delay, but the Tribunal found that this promise was not maintained. Instead, many hapu were left with nothing of their own to live on and became squatters on Crown land:
Taranaki Maori were dispossessed of their land, leadership, means of livelihood, personal freedom, and social structure and values. As Maori, they were denied their rights of autonomy, and as British subjects, their civil rights were removed. For decades, they were subjected to sustained attacks on their property and persons.
The Tribunal thus saw disempowerment as the main foundation of the claims:
By ‘disempowerment’, we mean the denigration and destruction of Maori autonomy or self-government. Extensive land loss and debilitating land reform would likely have been contained had Maori autonomy and authority been respected, as the Treaty required. Maori autonomy is pivotal to the Treaty and to the partnership concept it entails.
As Sir William Martin, our first Chief Justice, said, when opposing land confiscation in 1864:
The example of Ireland may satisfy us how little is to be effected towards the quieting of a country by the confiscation of private land … how the claim of the dispossessed owner is remembered from generation to generation and how the brooding sense of wrong breaks out from time to time in fresh disturbance and crime.
The Tribunal considered that an endowment that provided adequately for tribal autonomy in the future was what was important, not payments for individual benefit. While the Tribunal thought that, based on legal principles, some billions of dollars were probably owed for the land, leaving aside exemplary damages or compensation for loss of rents and the devaluation of annuities, it accepted that such a quantum of damages would not be possible and recommended only that generous reparation be made:
the settlement of historical claims is not to pay off for the past, even were that possible, but to take those steps necessary to remove outstanding prejudice and prevent similar prejudice from arising; for the only practical settlement between peoples is one that achieves a reconciliation in fact.