Iwi encouraged to resolve Auckland land claim issues on marae

Corazon Miller
Source: 1News

In a landmark case, the High Court has encouraged iwi with overlapping claims on whenua in central Auckland to resolve their issues together and away from the court.

It's the latest in a seven-year battle that began after the Crown proposed a transfer of the land to the Marutūahu Collective in 2014, two years after Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei settled its Treaty claims.

The large Auckland-based hapū took the Crown to court challenging its decision to give land in its "heartland", in central Auckland, to other iwi.

The land in question includes an old pā site called Taurarua - where the Dove Myer Robinson park is located in Parnell - and its former fishing village, now the Waipapa Marae at the University of Auckland.

In its initial submission to the court Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei called for the Crown to respect tikanga (Māori custom) in relation to its customary land interests - in particular ahi kā (continuous occupation) and mana whenua (people of the land).

It claims it has maintained ahi kā and related mana whenua in relation to the area since the mid-18th century, and therefore has exclusive rights over the area.

The Marutūāhu collective is made up of five closely related iwi of the Tainui waka: Ngāti Maru, Ngaati Whanaunga, Ngāti Tamaterā, Ngāti Pāoa and Te Patukirikiri.

"We have responsibilities to our land and to all the people who live on it."

—  Ngarimu Blair, Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei deputy chair

Ngāti Pāoa is among those which support aspects of the Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei case.

Other iwi from the group, Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki and Te Ākitai Waiohua, are in opposition to Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei's claim to ahi kā and mana whenua.

Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei deputy chair Ngarimu Blair says it's been a long battle, but it is one they're prepared to keep on fighting for.

"Land is central to Māori identity...it's the essence of our identity. We have responsibilities to our land and to all the people who live on it," he says.

"Without the land we are almost lost. Sixty or 70 years ago we only had a quarter of an acre left, we were nearly cleansed from this isthmus.

"So we are doing everything we can - we will do everything we can - to fight for our rights."

Ngarimu Blair

Justice Matthew Palmer today acknowledged that according to the Auckland iwi's tikanga it was mana whenua of the land in question. But he also acknowledged the Marutūahu Collective as mana whenua according to their tikanga.

He drew short of making a court declaration, instead urging the parties to work together to reconcile their differences.

"It seems to me [differences in history and tikanga] to be better explored on a marae than by a court," he says.

The judge also urged the Crown to give more consideration to differing interpretations of tikanga among iwi in any future Treaty settlement claims that may overlap.

Paul Majurey, counsel for Ngāti Marutūahu, says the iwi iopen to further negotiations, but so far it had been difficult to find common ground.

"We are also conscious we have been in settlement mode, unsettled, for many, many years," he says.

"We have lost a number of our negotiators...we've got to settle at some point before we lose all our people."