Editorial: Ngapuhi Treaty deal would lift all of Northland

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PM's offer of payment on account an important step towards setting the settlement process in motion

John Key told his Waitangi audience he hoped to see an agreement in principle signed with Ngapuhi this year. Photo / John Key
John Key told his Waitangi audience he hoped to see an agreement in principle signed with Ngapuhi this year. Photo / John Key

Ngapuhi, the largest iwi in New Zealand, the first to invite European settlement, is almost the last to get itself organised for a Treaty claim. For too long it has been unable to agree even on who should represent the iwi in negotiations with the Crown. Now the Government is going to try to move things along.

At Waitangi on Thursday the Prime Minister offered Ngapuhi "some form of payment on account to incentivise people to act in a positive and progressive manner".

This might not be as unusual as it sounds; the Crown can help to finance claims as a kind of advance on a settlement.

Treaty claims long ago ceased to be adversarial contests; the Government is as keen as most Maori to see iwi acquire capital and invest it for their benefit.

If Ngapuhi can get itself together, all of Northland should benefit. The region should be far more prosperous than it is.

With its climate, beauty, natural resources and its proximity to Auckland, it has blessings most other regions would envy.

Yet when the latest Household Labour Force Survey results this week showed unemployment down to 6 per cent nationally, Northland's rate remained much higher. The blight is visible in its towns.

John Key told his Waitangi audience he hoped to see an agreement in principle signed with Ngapuhi this year.

National came to office five years ago with aim of completing all Treaty settlements by 2014. That was a goal, not a deadline, he said. Of 67 deeds of settlement reached since the modern process began, 41 have been negotiated by the present Government.

That day Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson was going to the Far North to sign its 42nd deed of settlement, with Ngati Kuri. But Ngapuhi is the big one.

The iwi says it wants upwards of $500 million, which would eclipse all previous settlements and possibly trigger the renegotiation of some.

Outside Mr Key's meetings at Waitangi there were plenty of placards declaring Ngapuhi is still far from agreeing on who will negotiate for them. But the Herald published a contributed article from Tai Tokerau MP Hone Harawira that morning in which he said the negotiating mandate was close to being settled, though he did not like it.

He called on Ngapuhi leaders to "step away from the mandate", to defer negotiations until a group representing some hapu complete hearings on, among other things, the future of the Treaty.

Mr Harawira and activists like him fear that once all historic claims have been settled, the Treaty will be finished and forgotten. Some Pakeha might hope so, but the idea is absurd.

Many of the settlements place iwi in co-management roles with councils over parks, rivers and other resources.

These partnerships will no doubt require frequent recourse to the Treaty.

At the highest level, too, the Maori Party's status in the present Government has probably set a powerful precedent.

It is unfortunate for northern Maori and all of Northland that compensation for the injustices set out in the Muriwhenua Report of 1993 has been held up so long.

Other iwi are not just richer but stronger for the investments they have made and the cohesion they have developed. All the signals at Waitangi this week suggest that Ngapuhi are at last on the move, not exactly united but getting started.

- NZ Herald

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