Historical treaty claims
In 1975 the Labour government set up the Waitangi Tribunal to hear and make recommendations on contemporary claims. However, Māori grievances related mainly to the Crown’s historical actions and omissions from the beginning of colonisation. This became increasingly clear in the 1980s, when the tribunal gained momentum and mana under its second chair, Edward Taihakurei Durie. After great pressure, the Labour Party agreed to empower the tribunal to hear grievances dating back to 1840. Following Labour’s election victory in 1984, a 1985 amendment to the Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975 allowed historical grievances going back to 1840 to be heard. The tribunal began to issue reports addressing a multitude of grievances – including land, environmental, cultural and language loss – based on historical events.
The tribunal’s findings generally upheld the grievances and its recommendations included significant transfer of land and money to Māori. Reparations for past losses were the more urgent because government economic policies had greatly increased unemployment, with Māori suffering disproportionately. But compensation issues essentially related to treaty principles, which (partly in response to judicial and tribunal findings) now implied development of a partnership relationship between the Crown and Māori.
Treaty of Waitangi Policy Unit
Confronted with many recommendations for settlement from the tribunal, in 1989 the government set up a co-ordinating unit for treaty policy advice – the Treaty of Waitangi Policy Unit (TOWPU), within the Department of Justice. With other officials, this provided ministers with advice on a principled approach to the treaty. As a result, in May 1989 Prime Minister David Lange released five principles for Crown action on the Treaty of Waitangi. Principle five accepted that the Crown had ‘a responsibility to provide a process for the resolution of grievances arising from the Treaty’.1
TOWPU had the lead role in developing this process, beginning with Waikato–Tainui’s claims. Although even individual Māori could make claims to the Waitangi Tribunal, in general the Crown chose to negotiate settlements with larger groups such as iwi or groupings of iwi. A single settlement could therefore cover a large number of claims.
First treaty claim settlement
The settlements of the first half of the 20th century had not been conducted under the Treaty of Waitangi. In 1989 a mediated negotiation of a land-based claim under the Treaty of Waitangi was agreed. Land at Waitomo Caves, a major tourist attraction, was transferred to the two hapū whose territory included the caves. Management of tourism and other operations was to be shared with the Department of Conservation, with licence fees for guiding and souvenir sales split between the Crown and the Māori owners. The Crown loaned $1 million to the Māori owners as an advance on these licence fees.
Over the following four years, several more treaty claims were settled. The largest of these was the so-called ‘Sealord’ settlement, a follow-up to an interim pan-tribal fisheries settlement in 1989. In 1992 the government negotiated a full and final settlement of all Māori commercial fishing claims under the Treaty of Waitangi. This was the first final settlement to cover all Māori tribes. They were assisted to purchase 50% of the Sealord fisheries company, allocated a 20% share of new quotas of fish entering the quota management system, and provided with a fisheries commission to distribute assets. In total, the settlement was worth around $170 million; it also provided customary food-gathering rights.