Treaty Negotiations Minister Andrew Little has acknowledged a series of Crown failings in negotiating a Treaty of Waitangi settlement package worth $250 million.
In findings released today, the Waitangi Tribunal slammed the Crown's handling of overlapping claims in the Pare Hauraki Treaty Settlement.
The tribunal found the Crown did not adhere to Treaty principles, used an "ad hoc, opaque and ever-changing pool of settlement practices", rushed the process at the expense of due process and created fresh grievances between iwi.
A collective redress deed for Pare Hauraki, a collective of 12 iwi, was signed at Parliament in August last year. It followed a series of public protests - including two to Parliament - led by Ngāi Te Rangi.
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The settlement is in the process of being enacted through legislation.
Ngāi Te Rangi and Ngāti Ranginui of Tauranga Moana as well as Northland's Ngātiwai brought claims to the tribunal under urgency.
The hearing was held in April this year and the report released today.
The tribunal reported it found evidence the Crown withheld information, did "cursory" consultation, and shut iwi with overlapping claims out of relevant discussions.
"In some cases, claimant iwi agreed to certain redress items being provided to Hauraki, only to discover later that the Crown had offered something more, or different."
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For example, the day before the deed was initialled in December 2016, Tauranga Moana iwi discovered by chance a clause preserving Hauraki's ability to participate in a group governing the management of Tauranga Harbour - something Tauranga Moana iwi had strongly opposed.
The tribunal called for the legislation process to be halted until a proper tikanga negotiation process had occurred to sort out the claims.
Little said there was still a long way to go for the legislation, and the Crown would seek to work with both Tauranga Moana and Pare Hauraki to arrange a tikanga-based process.
The deed of settlement could be amended if that was what the parties agreed to, he said.
Little told the Bay of Plenty Times he accepted the tribunal's criticisms of the Crown's practices.
"I have met with Te Arawhiti [the Office for Maori Crown Relations, which includes the former Office of Treaty Settlements] about that and I certainly have expressed my disappointment that those things happened."
Work was under way to improve the policies and protocols - known as the Red Book - for handling overlapping claims - something the tribunal said it had recommended in the past without effect.
"That looks to me like a fair criticism, and it's incumbent on the Crown now to fix up what it does and the information that it provides iwi as well in dealing with overlapping interests," Little said.
"The Crown isn't perfect, the Crown gets it wrong – it has a history of getting it wrong – but the reason the tribunal is there is that when iwi are harmed by that, they have a chance to call the Crown out."
In written statements, both Ngāi Te Rangi and Ngātiwai welcomed the findings and said they planned to take some time to plan their next steps.
Ngāi Te Rangi said the report was a "significant step on the way to safeguarding the Mana Whenua status of Ngāi Te Rangi Iwi in Tauranga."
"Our hope is our iwi and the Crown develop a rejuvenated relationship based on mutual respect."
The iwi acknowledged its kaumātua who died before seeing the report.
Ngātiwai Trust Board treaty claims committee chairman Aperahama Edwards said the report "reaffirmed the important place of tikanga Māori in resolving our overlapping interests".
We continue to lose our old people without their seeing settlement.
He said he was proud of the people of the iwi for ensuring the mana of Ngātiwai was upheld.
"For me, it shows that when our people need to come together as one to defend our rights, that we are able to do so."
Claimant Huhana Lyndon of hapū Ngāti Rehua said the Crown's "Red Book approach" to Treaty negotiations failed to "allow hapū and iwi to move at their own pace and time".
Pare Hauraki chief negotiator Paul Majurey said the outcome would allow the collective to move forward and conclude its settlements, which have been in negotiations for a decade.
"We continue to lose our old people without their seeing settlement."
To criticisms of the Crown's process, he said it was the same as the one used for many other Treaty settlements.
He said the tribunal did not say Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Ranginui and Ngāti Wai have exclusive mana whenua in the contested areas or veto powers over Pare Hauraki's Treaty settlements.
"What the Tribunal did say for the first time ever is that the Crown must follow a defined tikanga process in Treaty settlements. The tribunal acknowledged this is a 'significant departure' from long-standing practice.
"We will now see how Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Ranginui and Ngāti Wai conduct themselves. Pare Hauraki expects this to mean an end to the threats of intimidation we saw from Tauranga Moana during their earlier protests."
Pare Hauraki's statement also highlighted a Tribunal finding that criticised Ngāi Te Rangi for withdrawing from all previously agreed redress in relation to Pare Hauraki.
The collective reported in August its settlement package was worth $250m and included the return of two iconic ancestral maunga – Moehau on the Coromandel Peninsula and Te Aroha – and 25,000 hectares of commercial forests.
A fourth iwi - Ngāti Paroa ki Hauraki - also brought claims over the settlement to the tribunal, but the tribunal found the claims were not well-founded.