Iwi want oral traditions to trump written evidence in tribunal hearings

By Jon Stokes

The country's largest iwi want strict restrictions on challenges to tribal elder evidence, and priority to iwi oral history in the proposed Ngapuhi Waitangi Tribunal hearing.

Northland-based Ngapuhi have called for the moves in a 19-page hearing proposal submitted to the Waitangi Tribunal this week.

Included is a proposal that challenges to testimony from tribal elders can only be made in writing if the elders decline to be questioned orally.

The hearing proposal follows more than two years of consultation within the tribe, the country's most populous with almost 130,000 beneficiaries. It follows a December 2005 hui where tribunal chief judge Joe Williams called for Ngapuhi to design its own hearing, after it rejected two tribunal proposals.

The following year at Waitangi commemorations, Ngapuhi chairman Sonny Tau said the tribunal was not impartial as it was appointed and funded by the Crown, and threatened to take the tribe's claim to the United Nations.

Included in the proposal is that the tribunal give greater authority to Ngapuhi verbal and traditional history to ensure that the evidence of kaumatua is accorded priority by the tribunal, and any "tokenism" be removed.

Mr Tau said the tribe would take control of the process.

"We have observed other iwi claims' hearings, hui where Maori have been reduced to passive bystanders in a legally controlled process dominated by lawyers and the tribunal working to agendas and procedures foreign to us.

"Maori claimants might as well send along the carvings from their marae for all the attention given to their issues."

Ngapuhi have also called for a Crown admission, before the hearing begins, that its laws, policies, agendas and motivations were intended to subjugate the lands, peoples and taonga of Ngapuhi.

"To make it clear that the hearings process is not to require claimants and hapu to prove the guilt of the Crown. Rather it is for the tribunal to make a series of specific findings and recommendations on the precise extent of Crown misdeeds."

Massey University historian and former tribunal researcher Professor Michael Belgrave said the proposal raised some fundamental difficulties.

He said challenging kaumatua testimony was important as it often conflicted with traditions delivered by other tribal elders and members.

"What happens if kaumatua don't agree in what they have to say? On what basis is evidence tested?"

He said oral traditions were often backed up by written history, such as native land court documents.

"To say they are just oral traditions misses a major point - they often are linked to those written traditions."

The tribe has also called for a single claim, rather than the five proposed by the tribunal, with the hearing moving to each of the tribe's hapu which exceed 300 in number.

Ngapuhi also want a kaumatua or iwi member appointed to the tribunal panel.

The hearings are predicted to last for two to 2 years.

Ngapuhi Hearings Proposal

* Priority must be given to oral traditional history.

* Kaumatua testimony can be questioned in writing only if elders decline verbal questioning.

* Tribunal to travel to all the more than 300 Ngapuhi hapu, or sub-tribes, to hear submissions, a process expected to take up to two and a half years.

* A single hearing instead of five proposed by the Waitangi tribunal.

* The appointment of a Ngapuhi kaumatua or tribal member on the tribunal hearing the claim.

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