Under the Local Electoral Act 2001 every local authority can decide whether to have specific Māori representation by way of establishing a Māori Ward. But since 2001 only two of the 24 councils that have tried to create Māori wards have been successful. Why? Institutional racism.
Unlike the general appeals process where the independent Local Government Commission can assess complaints and decide whether a decision helps or hinders "effective representation of communities of interest within [a] district", the appeal process differs in the context of Māori.
The wards can currently be overturned in public polls triggered by petitions that gather 5 per cent of council voters. The outcome of a public poll or referendum of electors is binding.
This was the case in January for example, where a petition in Tauranga successfully reached the 5 per cent mark, forcing a $220,000 referendum.
But this will no longer be the case thanks to Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta's decision to treat Māori wards like every other representation decision.
The law reforms are said to run over the next three years – starting with immediate changes to uphold council decisions for the next election.
Te Ao Māori and Taranaki Iwi advocate Puna Wano-Bryant is championing the move to tackle institutional racism as part of her role in New Plymouth direct action group Rongomou Community Action.
While the changes will be monumental, "if you start to lift the veil on legislation there are many other examples of racist laws and forms of governance", the lawyer and Treaty of Waitangi negotiator said.
The Settlements Act 1863 allowing for the confiscation of land without compensation may have been repealed, but similar sentiment can be found in the likes of Māori Reserved Land Act, where Māori are locked into ownership mechanisms where they are denied autonomy or the ability to do what they want, for example, she said.
While the changes have now removed the ability to countermand the establishment of Maori wards once a council has decided to do so, there still remains a system where the inclusion of Māori wards is not automatic, which is problematic.
"Now we are going to have a racist influx of people who oppose establishing those seats. The legislation needs to go further so that it reflects the number of Māori based on population. I would rather put resources into a battle that doesn't have to battle racism everyday."
And the racism is very real, she says, where there have been some very dark times during this process. Having worked on the Parihaka Reconciliation Bill in 2017, a person researched Wano-Bryant's professional history and, via Facebook, questioned the validity of the Crown's apology for the rape of Parihaka women, for example.
"The comment had nothing to do with Māori wards. That time taken and investment into a racist agenda was really unsettling."
Customary marine title recognition
In other news, the Crown officially recognised 14 customary marine title areas along the East Cape and East Coast in ngā rohe moana o ngā hapū o Ngāti Porou last week.
The recognition reflects the determination of ngā hapū o Ngāti Porou to safeguard their customary rights and the continued exercise of mana by ngā hapū o Ngāti Porou in their rohe moana.
Little said: "Ngā hapū o Ngāti Porou have contributed extensive research and collection of historical evidence which, along with the Crown's historical research and public consultation, assisted the Crown in being satisfied the legal tests for customary marine title were met in these areas."
Ngāti Porou were the only iwi that reached an agreement with the Crown under the now repealed Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004.
Ngāpuhi Investment Fund Limited
Last week also saw the introduction of Ngāpuhi Investment Fund Limited, a new Crown company with an initial capital of $150 million that will acquire and grow a portfolio of assets that can be offered by the Crown in negotiations with ngā hapū o Ngāpuhi.
Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Minister Andrew Little said: "The ability to engage in meaningful negotiations for commercial redress is an important part of restoring the Crown's relationship with ngā hapū o Ngāpuhi.
"The Fund sends a clear signal of our intention to seek to meet the aspirations of ngā hapū o Ngāpuhi for redress for their people and their rohe, when they are ready."
Sir Brian Roche has been appointed as the establishment chair, Ripeka Evans as deputy chair, alongside Lindsay Faithfull, Sarah Petersen, and Geoff Taylor as other directors.
While it's been a big month for Māori in a legal sense, to quote Puna Wano-Bryant: "It's just the tip of the iceberg, there's still a long way to go".
"It's been bittersweet. It was the Government who created these laws and it has swept in and changed them. We must not forget that without the long battle these laws would remain unchallenged. It's great, but I feel for my tīpuna (ancestors) who were not allowed in the gates of Parliament."