Story: Waitangi Tribunal – Te Rōpū Whakamana
The Waitangi Tribunal has had its detractors, but it stands as a unique attempt to redress colonial injustices. Research into Crown breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi has produced a rich historical record – and some reparation for past wrongs.
Full story by Mark Derby
Main image: Waitangi Tribunal hearing in the Bay of Islands, 2010
The Short Story
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Following a major protest march by Māori in 1975, the government set up the Waitangi Tribunal to investigate Crown breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi. At first the tribunal could only investigate claims of breaches after 10 October 1975.
Developing the tribunal
From 1985 the tribunal could investigate claims of breaches dating back to 1840.
High-profile cases investigated by the tribunal included one brought by the tribe Te Āti Awa, who did not want the Taranaki synthetic fuel plant to put its outfall into the sea near a reef where they gathered shellfish. A similar claim in Rotorua concerned the discharge of sewage into the Kaituna River, with its eel fishery. Both claims succeeded in protecting tribal food sources.
The tribunal recommended that the Māori language be made an official language of New Zealand, which occurred in 1987.
The tribunal recommended compensation for Ngāi Tahu for the loss of most of the South Island. Other important tribunal recommendations were for Ngāti Whātua’s Ōrākei claim, the Manukau Harbour claim and the Muriwhenua claim.
Changes, 1988 onwards
Claims to the tribunal began to pile up. A casebook system was adopted – all the claims in a single area were researched together.
Some people criticised the tribunal and thought the past should be forgotten. The government tried to limit compensation in 1994, but Māori opposed this.
The Office of Treaty Settlements was set up to negotiate directly with claimants without waiting for a tribunal re, and to negotiate with claimants who had tribunal reports. Tribunal enquiries identified issues which were undisputed, so hearings could focus on issues where the Crown and claimants disagreed.
Research on claims was carried out by the tribunal, claimants and the Crown.
Claims were classified as historical if they concerned Crown policies or actions before 1992. Under the Treaty of Waitangi Amendment Act 2006, from 2 September 2008 the tribunal no longer registered historical claims.
By 2009 the Waitangi Tribunal had produced over 100 reports. The Crown did not always accept the tribunal’s recommendations, but reports became the basis for negotiation between claimants and the Crown.