February 6 is Waitangi Day and, every year, there are arguments about what this day means to New Zealand. There is no one answer.
Today I will represent the Crown at Cape Reinga to sign a deed of settlement with Ngati Kuri. It will be the fourth settlement the Crown has concluded with Far North iwi who, with Ngati Kahu, are often referred to as Te Hiku.
The Te Hiku iwi began a claim in the Waitangi Tribunal over a quarter of a century ago. The tribunal reported on their claims in its thorough and comprehensive Muriwhenua Report in 1993. It detailed the loss of life and land caused by the Crown's failure to keep its promise to act in good faith towards iwi.
These sorts of claims are not ancient history. They are family histories, passed down from great-grandparents to their great-grandchildren. They are living memories of the history of the areas in which iwi still live and work.
Some people say they want an end to historical settlements. Most people agree. I do. Maori want them resolved as well.
For a while it seemed as if this might never happen. The process, which had started with fanfare in the 1990s, was crawling along at a snail's pace for much of the 2000s.
One briefing to the previous government optimistically predicted all settlements could be completed by the year 2060.
That has changed. The completion of all settlements is now an achievable goal. It can happen, with the goodwill of all parties, in the next few years.
The settlements will end not because Maori and the public have tired of them, but because they are finished.
The Ngati Kuri will bring to 42 the number of settlements this Government has signed with iwi. That brings the total to 68.
National's policy since the 1990s has been to address real grievances by reaching full and final settlements with genuine claimants in a timely fashion. Are there non-genuine claims? Certainly, just as there are vexatious cases in the common law courts. They are easy to spot. We are not interested in claims about the ownership of wind, for example.
We are determined, however, to put right the thoroughly and accurately documented cases of hurt caused by the Crown's wrongful actions in the past. This is what Treaty settlements are about.
The faster we settle these claims, the sooner there is an end. The sooner we settle, the sooner iwi can see the benefits of their settlements, and the sooner all New Zealanders benefit from moving on from grievance. Justice delayed is justice denied.
And the good news is that the completion of settlements is closer than many people think.
The number of remaining settlements is fewer than 50. Many of the remaining claimants have signed agreements in principle setting out the broad parameters of their settlements, and the Crown is engaged with almost all groups.
We are well on the way to the end. And the sky has not fallen. Despite dire predictions from a small minority at the beginning of this process, the quality of life of most New Zealanders has not been affected in any way. Beaches, national parks, rivers and mountain ranges are still enjoyed by everyone in exactly the same way they were before.
What has happened is that iwi have invested in their people and their regions.
Rather than blowing the proceeds of Treaty settlements, as was again predicted by a vocal few, most have acted wisely and developed the capacity of their people.
That's another fact that may have surprised some people at the start of this process: Treaty settlements have brought iwi closer to their local communities, not further away.
The result is less division, less fear of the unknown, and more unity.
Christopher Finlayson is Attorney-General and Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations.
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