Paul Moon: Tuhoe deal a great answer to Treaty naysayers

Settlement could usher in a new era of co-operative agreements and will be watched closely by claimants.

Chris Finlayson. Photo / Supplied
Chris Finlayson. Photo / Supplied

Was that a thin smile beginning to spread across the face of Chris Finlayson when he finished announcing the deal that the Crown had struck with Tuhoe - a deal which promises to resolve one of the most fraught Treaty claims in recent times?

Certainly, the minister has good reason for such measured triumphalism. The settlement's seemingly simple ingredients of a new legal entity for Te Urewera - with territorial co-management, a social services management plan, increased iwi self-determination, compensation, and an apology - have been combined, and by some ingenious alchemy the former adversaries in the negotiations will now become allies. This will give rise to a partnership in its purest form emerging from what until now has been a frequently fractious relationship.

If what's past is prologue, then the success of the settlement may well be nourished by the experiences of both parties during the negotiations.

The minister has explained how he acquired a much more intimate understanding of Tuhoe's history in the course of the talks - something which would undoubtedly have helped him appreciate the iwi's stance as the two groups locked horns.

On the other side of the negotiating table, Tamati Kruger and his team acted with good faith and much patience, even when relations were punctured by occasional political obstinacy, and when factions within their own camp threatened to pull away some of the props supporting the claim.

To his credit, Finlayson refused to rise to the bait of a shallow, politically expedient deal.

Simply throwing cash at the claimants, and mouthing a few over-rehearsed apologies was never going to work in this case, and he was astute enough to appreciate that a more carefully-calibrated solution would be required.

His great achievement with this particular settlement is that it was engineered to function by means of the parties co-operating with each other in perpetuity, rather than leaving the claimants marooned with their deal.

Occasionally, in the aftermath of a claim, there can be a residual sensation that the Crown, having consummated the agreement, has rushed off into the night, leaving the claimant community feeling nothing like it is in a partnership.

There is no chance of this with the arrangement just reached with Tuhoe.

And as much as Finlayson might avow otherwise, the prospect of a co-management model must be a feature that other claimants who have yet to settle with the Crown will look on with more than passing interest. The allure of this type of deal - particularly the opportunity it affords for iwi to advance their aspirations for a more tangible demonstration of rangatiratanga - could prove irresistible.

There is at least one lesson to be drawn from this imminent settlement that stretches far beyond the craggy, damp terrain of Te Urewera, though. Almost since the inception of the Waitangi Tribunal, in 1975, a culture of open antagonism towards the claims process has been allowed to fester among certain portions of the population.

The scornful anti-Treaty rhetoric that has had free rein for decades is surely confounded by the Tuhoe deal, which will increasingly serve as an archetype for a more sympathetic and positive view of the Treaty relationship.

As the Herald's Yvonne Tahana succinctly described it last week, this is an "elegant" arrangement.

With some sustained goodwill by the parties, it should also prove to be an enduring one, and a corrective to those naysayers who see no benefit for the country in Treaty settlements.

Dr Paul Moon is Professor of History at AUT University.

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