Claimants predict a radical shake-up

The Waitangi Tribunal says Ngapuhi didn't cede sovereignty to the Crown when its rangatira signed the Treaty of Waitangi.

But what happens next is up in the air, with claimants saying there could be a radical shake up of the way New Zealand is governed - but the Government says nothing will change.

The tribunal yesterday delivered its report on Stage One of its inquiry into Te Paparahi o te Raki (the great land of the north) treaty claims at Waitangi's Te Tii Marae.

Te Kotahitanga o nga Hapu Ngapuhi instigated the inquiry and co-chairman Pita Tipene said that the hapu and whanau of Tai Tokerau were elated because their case that sovereignty had never been ceded to the settler government had been vindicated.

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Mr Tipene said the ruling meant that the way the country had been governed may need to be looked at and changed to give more autonomy to hapu.

But Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson said there was no question that the Crown had sovereignty in New Zealand.

"This report doesn't change that fact," Mr Finlayson said.

Ngapuhi have long maintained their ancestors did not sign away their sovereignty or the right to make their own laws. In short, the tribunal found that Britain wanted sovereignty and the right to make laws over Maori and Pakeha when it invited Ngapuhi chiefs to sign the treaty. The chiefs, however, believed - based on the Maori wording of the treaty and explanations by Governor Hobson and others - they were only giving Britain the right to govern its own settlers and keep the peace. Britain would protect Maori from foreign powers, but Maori would continue to rule themselves.

What the report does not examine is what its findings will mean in practice. Some leaders at Waitangi said the finding would strengthen Maori claims to natural resources, because their ancestors never consented to giving up sovereignty, others said it could open up avenues for Maori via international law.

Mr Tipene said the findings brought jubilation to hapu.

"There's no ambiguity at all here, the tribunal is saying we didn't give up sovereignty, but a big question is 'what next?"'

Te Rarawa leader Haami Piripi said the report showed everything Maori had been saying for 170 years was correct.

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"What Maori were trying to do was retain the ability to manage and govern themselves. In 1840 Europeans had 5 per cent of New Zealand's land mass. What logic would lead you to believe Maori would cede the other 95 per cent?"

Ngati Hine academic Erima Henare said the report's implications were "tremendously huge". In the worst case scenario the Crown would choose to do nothing, in which case the sovereignty issue would probably end up in court.

Hokianga scholar Patu Hohepa said the report confirmed the English version of the treaty was "fraudulent and absolutely not a translation" of Te Tiriti, which gave hapu the right to make their own laws.

But Mr Finlayson disagreed. "The report draws together existing scholarship on the Declaration of Independence and treaty of Waitangi. (The Waitangi Tribunal notes that its report represents continuity rather than dramatic change in current treaty scholarship). The tribunal doesn't reach any conclusion regarding the sovereignty the Crown exercises in New Zealand," he said.

"Nor does it address the other events considered part of the Crown's acquisition of sovereignty or how the treaty relationship should operate today."

The Government will consider the report as it would any other tribunal report.

-Hapu jubilation, page 3.