Waitangi tribunal receives 1000 new claims

The Waitangi Tribunal received about 1000 new historic claims yesterday as applicants rushed to beat a midnight deadline.

Tribunal director Darrin Sykes today said the last minute flood of claims pushed the total figure received since August 1 to about 2000.

"It's been pretty huge," he said. "They came through in truckloads and we still had faxes and emails coming through right up to 11.59."

The Government announced the deadline for historic claims in 2005, with the aim of settling them by 2020.

Mr Sykes said the next step was to verify whether claims met statutory criteria. That could take some time as often it involved requesting further information from the claimants.

The tribunal has said that people filing a new claim need only to show they were of Maori descent and to note the historical grievance suffered - the key issue was to register the claims so that processing can begin.

Mr Sykes yesterday said there had been a lot of debate about the deadline and most MPs had voted for it, so there seemed to be a broad consensus for a historical claims deadline.

Maori Land Court Chief Judge Joe Williams, who chairs the tribunal, has said he was pleased by the big lift in claims.

Judge Williams said several landmark treaty settlements had been made in recent months, and this suggested the Government's aim to have settlements completed by 2020 was achievable.

Deals have included the $500 million "Treelords" settlement with three Central North Island tribes, and a $25 million settlement with Taranaki Whanui, as well as a deed of settlement with Waikato-Tainui for $7 million to clean up the Waikato River, and terms of negotiation for Tuhoe's Treaty claim.

Maori Party spokesman Te Ururoa Flavell said he was worried that some small iwi had insufficient resources to meet the deadline.

But Maori Affairs Minister Parekura Horomia said the progress being made on settling historical treaty claims was an indication of the readiness of Maori to settle the grievances of the past and look towards investing in the future.

"It is of the utmost importance that we recognise the past injustices that Maori suffered at the hands of the Crown - but it is also important that as a people we move forward and get on with investing in the future of our communities," he said.

Trying to settle all historical treaty claims by 2020 might seem ambitious "but 12 months ago people would have thought it ambitious for us to aim to settle forestry claims with CNI iwi and the river claim with Tainui before 2009", he said.


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