A Waitangi elder has used the opening of a historic Waitangi Tribunal hearing to call on the Government to buy back private land in the Bay of Islands so it can be returned to hapu.


Kingi Taurua was making one of the opening statements yesterday in the stage 2 hearings of the Northland Inquiry, or Te Paparahi o Te Raki.


The inquiry deals with more than 300 Ngapuhi claims relating to lost land and other breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi, making it one of the largest and most complex to date. It could eclipse even the $170 million Tainui settlement of 1995.


The first week of hearings are being conducted in two large marquees in the grounds of Waitangi's Tii Marae.

Hapu members were welcomed onto the marae on Sunday morning, followed by a 2pm powhiri for the Waitangi Tribunal and Crown lawyers. Also welcomed were members of the Office of Treaty Settlements, which stepped in at the 11th hour to foot the bill for the first week of hearings after the usual funder, the Crown Forestry Rental Trust, refused.

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Stage 1 hearings, held more than two years ago, dealt with sovereignty and what Ngapuhi chiefs agreed to when they signed the Declaration of Independence in 1835 and then Te Tiriti o Waitangi in 1840. The Tribunal's report on stage 1 has yet to be completed.


Stage 2 deals with the nitty-gritty of Ngapuhi's 300-plus land claims, with Craig Coxhead again the presiding judge.


Hearings opened yesterday morning with Waitangi/Takutai Moana speakers Merata Kawharu, Renata Tane, Kingi Taurua, Maryanne Baker and Erima Henare.


Waitangi elder Kingi Taurua used his speech to criticise the "settler government" for refusing to allow Maori to continue to govern themselves despite promises made in the Maori version of the Treaty, the only one his ancestors signed.


He urged the Government to use the Treaty's pre-emption clause to buy back all land currently in private ownership but belonging to Ngati Kawa, Ngati Rahiri and Ngati Rehia - roughly the greater Bay of Islands - as it came onto the market, and then return it to hapu.


Mr Taurua said the Crown had taken control of, or confiscated, Maori land, rivers, seas, taxes, homes and now even water, referring to a bid to privatise state-owned power companies.


He repeated the words of his ancestor Te Kemara, who told British Resident James Busby to give his land back so his mokopuna could have a place to stand: ''We say the same thing today. Give our land back, so we may stand, live and die on our land.''


Mr Taurua said his role at the opening was to stimulate discussion and "throw these matters to the winds of the sky, that we may elucidate the meaning of Te Tino Rangatiratanga [sovereignty], the naughty deeds of the Crown and the proper path ahead."


Justice sacrificed for expediency, claimant says


An attempt to settle Ngapuhi's 300-plus Treaty of Waitangi claims will fail if the government sacrifices proper process for speed and expediency.


That was the warning issued by noted Ngati Hine academic Erima Henare, speaking at the opening yesterday of stage 2 hearings in the Northland Inquiry or Te Paparahi o Te Raki.


Mr Henare said he feared the government was trying to rush through a settlement to meet a pre-determined political timetable. He was also concerned by the Crown's opening statement that it was ready to start direct negotiations with Tuhoronuku, bypassing the Waitangi Tribunal process.


Tuhoronuku is a committee set up by Te Runanga-a-iwi o Ngapuhi to get a mandate from iwi members to carry out negotiations.


Mr Henare said Tuhoronuku did not have a mandate to negotiate on Ngapuhi's behalf, despite the runanga's claims. He also wondered how a settlement would be possible without the evidence being presented to the Waitangi Tribunal.


The hearings continue all week at Tii Marae. Today Whangaroa speakers will give evidence, followed by Whangarei tomorrow and Mangakahia on Thursday. The Crown will take the stand on Friday. In total stage 2 hearings are expected to take 21 weeks.


Ngapuhi has been sharply divided over how its Treaty grievances should be settled.


The runanga is keen to negotiate directly with the Crown, saying going through the Waitangi Tribunal process would cost the iwi time and lost opportunities.


A group called Te Kotahitanga o Nga Hapu Ngapuhi, however, believes a lasting settlement can only be reached by going through the full process. Te Kotahitanga regards the Tribunal as kind of national Truth and Reconciliation Commission acknowledging injustices and allowing people to explain their grievances.