More than a decade after it first agreed to a settlement, legislation recognising Ngāti Porou's customary title and rights over the foreshore and seabed along the East Coast will finally go before Parliament.
Ngāti Porou will be the first iwi to secure a settlement over the foreshore and seabed, marking its customary title and giving it some veto rights over the uses of those areas. It will get its first reading in Parliament on Thursday.
Ngāti Porou representative Matanuku Mahuika said it had been a long road for the iwi which first negotiated a settlement in 2008 under Labour after the controversial Foreshore and Seabed Act. His late father, Apirana Mahuika, was a driving force in that.
That was put on hold while National replaced the Foreshore and Seabed Act with the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Act in 2011, a move that allowed iwi to claim for customary title but required public access be maintained.
The issue had caused heated debate in the past and Mahuika said he was expecting some of that to rise again as the bill was considered but said people should not be concerned by it.
"We are strongly of the view that we are not doing anything that will unduly affect people who want to visit the area, who want to go for a swim at the beach and do that sort of thing. We don't want to discourage that, or for people to feel they are unwelcome."
That change means the iwi will now have its customary title recognised, rather than "territorial customary rights". The foreshore and seabed stretches from the high tide mark to 12 nautical miles out to sea.
Ngāti Porou's settlement will give it customary title over a significant part of the East Coast coastline down to Gisborne, as well as customary rights such as fishing and protection of wāhi tapu (sacred areas).
The iwi's consent will also be required for resource consent applications in the areas it has customary title as well as any proposals such as tourism ventures, the creation of a marine reserve, marine mammal sanctuary or conservation protected areas.
It will also be able to propose bylaws to restrict or ban fishing for either sustainability or cultural reasons, such as to enforce a rāhui [a ban on fishing or swimming, such as after a drowning]. It will also have ownership of any minerals in the area, other than nationalised minerals of petroleum, gold, silver and uranium.
Mahuika said it was not about the commercial aspects of a settlement and the importance of having its rights recognised should not be underestimated.
"It was very much about us being of the view that our people had lived along that coast, had exercised those significant rights in respect of the foreshore and seabed and simply seeking a mechanism by which to have those recognised in law."
The Marine and Coastal Area Act allows iwi to negotiate a settlement directly with the Government or go to court to test the extent of customary title and rights – something the Foreshore and Seabed Act did not allow.
Treaty Negotiations Minister Andrew Little said he had no intention of overhauling that legislation again but people were still assessing how the process would work and how it would operate in practise.
He said the fundamental principles under it such as public access to beaches would remain the same.
He expected it to be a while before any other iwi or hapū followed in Ngāti Porou's footsteps.
A futher 380 hapū and iwi have lodged claims either to negotiate or directly with the High Court before the deadline for claims. The threshold for customary title is high, requiring iwi to prove they have have an unbroken and exclusive relationship with their coastline since 1840.