Repeal welcome in the cradle of Tainui

By James Ihaka

The ownership of New Zealand's coastline and the issue of customary title are shaping up as major political issues as the Government prepares to repeal the Foreshore and Seabed Act.

This week, we investigate coastal ownership and examine the implications of scrapping this contentious law. Land Information New Zealand has exclusively released detailed maps and statistics to the Herald about coastal ownership.

In the third of a five-part series, we examine the coastal Waikato region, including the battle over the harbours of Raglan, Aotea and Kawhia.

Jack Cunningham sees repeal of the Foreshore and Seabed Act as unifying for the people of Kawhia. Photo / Christine Cornege
Jack Cunningham sees repeal of the Foreshore and Seabed Act as unifying for the people of Kawhia. Photo / Christine Cornege

According to legend, Hoturoa, the captain of the Tainui waka, and his people made their final landing at Kawhia Harbour.

There they found shelter and a bounty of fish, shellfish and seaweed that not only ensured the survival of the Tainui people, but led to an increase in their numbers and their eventual expansion inland.

"Kawhia is the birthplace of Tainui," said Ngati Hikairo kaumatua and spokesman Jack Cunningham.

"If you say you are Tainui, then you automatically whakapapa [trace ancestry] back to Kawhia."

From Raglan to Taharoa, Maori own 190.8km, or 42.8 per cent, of land abutting the foreshore, according to Land Information New Zealand.

General lands account for 116.6km, or 26.1 per cent, and Crown and territorial authorities own 138.5km, or 31.1 per cent.

Mr Cunningham said that for the more than 20 different hapu, the repeal of the foreshore and seabed legislation "could only be good".

Since the previous Labour Government made changes to the law in 2004 denying Maori the right to test customary title in the courts, Kawhia hapu and iwi relationships with offshore drilling companies had changed, he said.

"They used to negotiate with us and we'd go out there and bless their rigs and do all these sorts of things to help them out.

"Now they no longer consult with us."

The repeal would scrap Crown ownership in favour of the concept of public domain, under which no one owns the foreshore and seabed but hapu and iwi would be allowed to go to court to seek customary title.

Mr Cunningham doubts anything will change for the Kawhia people, but said the repeal was a rallying point for the different hapu to unify and negotiate for a Treaty settlement for the harbour.

"The Government may come up with fancy titles like public domain, but we have always said, and we still say, we own the foreshore and seabed right out to the horizon. We have never deviated from that.

"We are prepared to negotiate with the Crown but, until we have come up with a strategy of our own, at the moment we are consulting all our whanau. We are looking at it not from an iwi or hapu perspective, we are all related around the harbour."

Davis Apiti, an environmental advocate for the Ngati Te Wehi people of Aotea Harbour, also welcomed the act's repeal.

"At least now with the repeal we have a right to go through the courts, so there's a bit of light there ... we'll take anything if it can enhance things for us and give things a bit more teeth."

Aotea Harbour has mataitai reserve status, which gives Mr Apiti's people substantial control and say in managing the fishery.

Last year they imposed a rahui, or ban, on pipi gathering after concerns that outsiders were "thrashing" their once bountiful resource.

Mr Apiti says that because the mataitai measures are working, and it is accepted by local Pakeha, he was not clear whether his people would seek customary title through the courts.

His people are meeting to discuss the issue tomorrow.

"At the end of the day, and despite the legislation being repealed, the mataitai here is working and people, not just Maori, are working together.

"It's just a case of where common sense prevails."

But in Raglan Angeline Greensill isn't getting her hopes up.

The environmental lawyer, university lecturer and daughter of land rights activist Eva Rickard, sees the repeal as "something worse".

The concept of public domain, which allows the Government to say that no one owns the beach before Maori can prove ownership through customary title, irks her.

If non-Maori neighbours next door own foreshore and seabed, public domain will not apply to them.

"The fact is with this legislation we are still being denied even though our Pakeha neighbours, the farmers, their beaches aren't going.

"It's still Maori beaches that are actually the main area confiscated under this legislation even though there's a repeal. It's not right."

Mrs Greensill said nearly half the land around Raglan Harbour and its environs was in Maori ownership.

While the 12 hapu in the region were taking a wait-and-see approach to the legislation, Mrs Greensill was worried it could leave Maori largely powerless and result in an increase in mining and "the same sort of things that have just been turned down in Coromandel".

"The ideal thing would be just to give it back to Maori," she said.

"It's about time they started trusting us. People say we are getting a special deal, and yes, we should."

* Put the foreshore and seabed into Crown ownership.
* Denied Maori the right to go to court to prove ownership.

By the end of the year:
* No one will own the foreshore and seabed.
* Instead, it will be considered "public domain".
* That is, until Maori can prove that they own any part of it.
* If they can prove ownership, they gain customary title.
* They can do that in two ways - apply to the courts to confirm, or negotiate directly with the Government.
* BUT to prove customary title Maori must pass the tests of continuous and exclusive use since 1840.

- NZ Herald

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