New Zealand makes it up with the Maori

Maori entertainers are seen before the Cricket World Cup match in Nelson in February.   | Photo Credit: ANTHONY PHELPS

Their land was confiscated, their homes burned down and many of their people killed.

Now, 150 years later, the indigenous Ngai Tuhoe tribe in New Zealand is getting a new start. The government has apologised for its past atrocities, handed over 170 million New Zealand dollars ($128 million) and agreed the tribe should manage a sprawling, rugged national park it calls home.

Last year’s settlement is one of dozens the government has signed with Maori tribes in a comprehensive, multi-billion-dollar process described in a U.N. report as imperfect but nevertheless “one of the most important examples in the world of an effort to address historical and ongoing grievances of indigenous peoples.”

The payouts have transformed some of the tribes into major economic players in a nation where Maori make up 15 per cent of the country’s 4.5 million people. They have also contributed to a broader cultural renaissance and improved prospects for Maori.

Tamiti Kruger, who led the negotiations for the Tuhoe tribe, or “iwi,” said the settlement provoked great emotion, especially for older tribal members.

The settlements are the result of legal claims brought by tribes against the government for breaches of the nation’s founding document, the Treaty of Waitangi.

The 1840 agreement effectively handed Britain sovereignty of New Zealand while guaranteeing Maori certain rights over traditional land and fisheries. Versions in Maori and English stated different things, and the treaty’s implications, including whether Maori ever willingly ceded sovereignty, continue to be debated.

Soon after the treaty was signed, conflicts between Maori and white settlers over who owned land escalated into a war that killed hundreds of Maori warriors and British troops.

The government began settling claims a quarter century ago, apologising for its past actions. Some whites argued the nation would go broke, and some Maori said it wasn’t fair the government, a party to the negotiations, also got to dictate the terms, something the U.N. report cited as a flaw.

But a broad consensus has grown among lawmakers and Maori leaders that the process is working. Te Ururoa Flavell, New Zealand’s Maori Development Minister, said the settlements have not only righted wrongs, but have also lifted Maori confidence.

With the finish line in sight, the pace of settlements has picked up. The government has signed 72 agreements and hopes to sign the final one by 2017.

The settlements appear to be improving the economic and social standing of Maori, who still lag behind white New Zealanders on many social measures. Maori have higher-than-average incarceration rates and a 12 per cent unemployment rate, compared to a four per cent rate for white New Zealanders. But the number of Maori who earned at least a bachelor’s degree rose 56 per cent between 2006 and 2013.

The settlements have cost NZ$1.6 billion so far, a figure Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson said could rise to NZ$3 billion.

Tamiti, the Tuhoe negotiator, said his tribe’s settlement has helped heal generations of hatred between the tribe and the government.

“New Zealanders are to be commended for confronting their history,” he said. “It’s entirely untrue that you can’t change the past.”

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2021 11:22:20 PM |

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