The Crown breached Treaty of Waitangi principles in its negotiations with an Eastern Bay of Plenty iwi, prioritising its political objective over a process fair to the iwi, the Waitangi Tribunal has found.

The tribunal has recommended a temporary halt to Treaty negotiations between Eastern Bay of Plenty iwi Whakatohea's Pre-settlement Trust and the Crown in light of the breach.

Its findings into the Whakatohea Mandate Claims were released today, determining that the Crown prioritised its political objective of concluding settlements by mid-2020 instead of a process fair to Whakatohea.

The tribunal also found the Crown should have given more weight to opposition expressed by several Whakatohea hapu to the Pre-settlement Trust instead of picking and backing the group considered most likely to achieve the Crown's objective of a quick settlement.

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A total of 13 urgent applications were filed with the Waitangi Tribunal in 2016 and 2017, with all applicants stating the Crown should not have recognised the mandate of the Whakatohea Pre-settlement Claims Trust to enter into settlement negotiations on behalf of the iwi.

They argued the mandating process was not hapu-driven which was inconsistent with Whakatohea tikanga (beliefs), and had undermined hapu rangatiratanga (autonomy).

The Crown denied the claims and said the Pre-settlement Trust had the support of a significant majority of Whakatohea.

The Crown and the trust wanted to conclude settlement negotiations under the current mandate.

However, the tribunal concluded that a failure to fulfil the Crown's duty to act reasonably, honourably and in good faith constituted a breach of the Treaty principles of partnership and active protection.

Presiding officer for the inquiry, Judge Michael Doogan, said the inquiry team believed the breach came about because the Crown prioritised its political objective over a process fair to Whakatohea.

"This not only caused prejudice to Whakatohea, it also puts at significant risk the prospect of durable settlement based upon a restored Treaty relationship," Judge Doogan said.

In its report, the tribunal identified a lack of balance in the mandate process and stated that strongly implied a pre-determined outcome.

The tribunal said those opposed to the mandate had good reason to feel that their concerns were not given a fair hearing.

The tribunal has recommended a temporary halt to negotiations in order that all of Whakatohea be given a chance to vote on how to proceed and that the Crown commit to maintaining its current settlement offer and pay interest on the cash component of the settlement offer.

Whakatohea's Pre-settlement Trust chairman Graeme Riesterer said the trust would now work through the report's findings and consider how best to address the Tribunal's recommendations.

"Our job is to work on behalf of Whakatohea – those of us here now as well as those of us to come, and to acknowledge and protect the mana of those who have gone before us.

"The trust remains committed to continuing to act in the best interests of all Whakatohea."

Joseph Kahika, lead claimant for Te Whanau a Te Kahika, who were in opposition to the Whakatohea mandate, said he was happy with the Tribunal's findings.

"We won all our legal arguments and our whanau feel that the Tribunal has heard all our concerns and we have our dignity back."

Whakatohea Settlement Timeline
- Attempts by Whakatohea to seek redress from the Crown date back to the early 20th century. In 1927 the Sim Commission Inquiry resulted in a settlement for excessive confiscation in 1947 and the establishment of the Whakatohea Maori Trust Board in 1952.
- In 1996, an attempt was made to reach a settlement with the Crown in 1996 but this failed because Whakatohea would not ratify the offer presented.
- The Pre-settlement Trust was established in 2016 after a lengthy process within Whakatohea that began in 2003.
- By 2010, there were three groups developing mandate strategies to negotiate with the Crown. They were the Whakatohea Raupatu Working Party, the Tu Ake Whakatohea Collective and the Te Upokorehe Treaty Claims Trust.
- In 2013, the Raupatu Working Party and Tu Ake each submitted a mandate strategy to the Crown for consideration.
- The Crown endorsed the Tu Ake mandate strategy in April 2016 and negotiations commenced.
- On May 30, 2016, the tribunal received an application for an urgent inquiry from Upokorehe. A further 12 applications for an urgent inquiry were received in January and February 2017, the last on 28 February 2017.
- The Crown and the Pre-Settlement Trust signed an Agreement in Principle to settle
claims in August, 2017.
- The first hearings as part of the urgent inquiry took place at the Awakeri Events Centre near Whakatane from November 6 to 10, 2017.