He Maunga Rongo: The Report on Central North Island Claims, Stage 1 addresses over 120 Treaty claims raised by Māori from some 50 iwi and hapū living in a region that stretches from the Bay of Plenty coastline inland to just south of Lake Taupo and eastwards across the Kaingaroa Plains.
The claims were brought together in the largest inquiry that the Tribunal has ever held. In hearings held over 10 weeks between 1 February and 9 November 2005, some 300 witnesses provided evidential briefs – including over 270 from Māori themselves – and the Tribunal considered over 100 written research reports.
The Tribunal panel consisted of Judge Caren Fox (presiding), John Baird, Gloria Herbert, and Dr Ann Parsonson. However, Mr Baird, as a director of Mighty River Power, was excluded from discussions, report writing, and any findings and recommendations concerning rivers, waters, lakes (including Lake Taupo), geothermal resources or assets, and any other part of the CNI inquiry in which Mighty River Power may have an interest.
A two-stage approach was adopted for the inquiry, with stage 1 focusing on generic or big picture issues which concern iwi and hapū across the region. (Stage 2, if needed, will look into the details of specific claims.) Stage 1 was divided into modules, to enable claimants to ‘opt out’ at certain points and switch to an early direct negotiation track if they wished. Some did so, taking advantage of the research that had been completed during the first module. The majority, however, stayed with the Tribunal process through to the end of hearings and then requested that the Tribunal continue to the next module and produce a report. This report comprises some 2000 pages and is broken into six parts.
Part I explains the inquiry process and introduces the iwi and hapu of the central North Island (CNI) inquiry region. It describes their traditions about their origins and the complexity of their kin interrelationships. It discusses traditional knowledge and customary law, explaining how the latter was based on values rather than rules.
Part II considers the political relationship between CNI Māori and the Crown from the time of the Treaty to around 1920. In the Tribunal’s finding, the Treaty guaranteed and protected the full authority (tino rangatiratanga) of Māori over their lands, people, treasures, and affairs – such authority being inherent to Māori polities, not created by the Treaty. The Tribunal also found that indigenous ‘sovereignty’ was not about independence from the state but rather about the proper exercise of Crown and Māori autonomy in their respective spheres and about managing the overlaps in partnership.
The Tribunal concluded that Crown’s guarantee to Māori of the same rights as other British subjects included the right to self-government through representative institutions. The report considers a number of ways in which the Crown could have met its obligations in this respect, but failed to do so. Indeed, the Tribunal concluded that given the sheer breadth and number of lost opportunities between 1840 and 1920 – many not so much being lost as sidelined or actively rejected – the historical evidence was overwhelmingly that the Crown committed a sustained breach of the Treaty in this regard.
Part III looks at the administration and alienation of Maori land in the region, and the lasting difficulties faced by Māori owners as a result of the title system introduced by the Crown. It discusses how, with the transformation of customary rights into individualised shares in newly created land blocks, many owners came to hold interests scattered between different places. Then, as the Māori land base shrank, and the land court rule of equal succession to owners’ interests took effect, inherited shares became smaller and smaller. Other chapters in this part discuss Crown provisions for the purchase and lease of land, and the way these were implemented in the Taupo, Kaingaroa, and Rotorua districts in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In the Tribunal’s finding, the key Treaty breach in respect of all these issues was the Crown’s failure, over more than a century, to facilitate legal community titles to land, which would have enabled hapu to make community decisions about land management, development, sale and lease. The Tribunal did find, however, that the breach has been mitigated by the provisions of the Te Ture Whenua Maori Act 1993 – legislation which has given Māori landowners a greater range of options.
Lastly in this section of the report, the Tribunal looks at public works issues. Here, on the evidence available to it, the Tribunal concluded that Māori land was often not taken as a last resort, and/or only in exceptional circumstances in the national interest. Rather, because of the lesser requirements for notification, consultation and opportunities to object, Māori land (when wanted for a public work) tended to be taken as a first or early resort. This was in breach of the Treaty.
Part IV considers economic development. The Tribunal found that Māori possessed a Treaty right to development. This right extended to the development of their property, including through the use of new technologies and/or for new purposes, and to having an equal opportunity to do so. It also included the ability to develop, or profit from, resources in which they have a proprietary interest under Māori custom, even where the nature of that property right was not necessarily recognised under British law.
Ensuing chapters in part IV look at economic development in the areas of farming, tourism, forestry (both indigenous and exotic) and power generation. In many of these areas, the Tribunal found that the Crown had failed in its duty of active protection of Maori interests. As a result, it concluded, CNI Māori were often marginalised from economic development, especially up until the mid-twentieth century. The Tribunal did consider that the Crown may have done somewhat better in its Treaty obligations over Māori economic development in the exotic forestry sector, and did not find Treaty breach in that instance – although noted that its finding was preliminary as the evidence had not gone into detail. It also noted that CNI Māori economic development in that sector had come at a high price in terms of their cultural, environmental, and social interests.
Part V assesses Crown policies for natural resources and the environment. It looks at how CNI Māori have conceptualised, claimed and utilised the resources of the region, and concludes that two world views and two systems of law and authority have clashed. That discussion is carried through into chapters that focus on Lake Taupo; on other water resources of the region such as springs, smaller lakes, rivers, and estuaries; and on the geothermal resource.
The Tribunal found that Māori customary rights to indigenous freshwater and sea fisheries remained legally enforceable so long as there was compliance with the Treaty of Waitangi (Fisheries Claims) Settlement Act 1992. It also found that in legal and Treaty terms, CNI Māori had retained their customary rights to the geothermal fields of the cntral North Island and to the underlying the Taupo volcanic zone.
In general, the Tribunal found that the Crown had breached the Treaty in failing to recognise and provide for the customary rights and Treaty interests of CNI Māori in the natural resources of the region. In the area of resource management, the Tribunal is of the opinion that what CNI Māori seek is the right to negotiate arrangements in accordance with the principle of partnership and the Treaty of Waitangi.
Part VI contains two appendices: a case study relating to early Native Land Court hearings about the Kaingaroa 1 block and a literature list.