Story: Te ture – Māori and legislation

Page 4. Administering Māori land

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West Coast Reserves Settlement Act 1881

In 1880, the Crown-appointed commission of enquiry, known as the West Coast Commission, considered the future of land returned to Taranaki Māori by the Compensation Court. Mohi Tāwhai, a Māori MP, resigned from the commission on the grounds that his two fellow members were not impartial. Both had acquired confiscated land.

The commission decided that Māori did not have to live on reserved land to benefit from it. This led to a system of leasehold titles under the West Coast Reserves Settlement Act 1881, administered by the Public Trustee. Under this act settler farmers could lease Māori land for a fraction of the market rate. Some Māori farmers also obtained leases, but at higher rentals over shorter periods. This leasing system was not changed until 1998.

Native Lands Rating Act 1882

The Native Lands Rating Act 1882 introduced rates on Māori land (defined as land in multiple Māori ownership). Māori land was rated at up to 300% of equivalent European land. The rates became increasingly difficult to pay as owners of Māori land did not always formally pass it on to their descendants, and owners who remained living on the land found it difficult to collect contributions to rates from the growing number of owners living elsewhere. Rates were eventually managed by local bodies who, until 1978, could seize Māori land for unpaid rates.

Not for sale

In 20067 members of the Ngāti Tūwharetoa tribe occupied Taurewa Station, a Landcorp-owned farm near Lake Taupō. They were protesting against the government’s failure to recognise provisions of the 1908 Public Works Act. The Crown had taken the Taurewa land under the act in 1913 for military training. It later became a government-managed farm, and in 2006 the government proposed to sell the farm to private interests. The occupation ended when the sale plans were cancelled and the land was transferred to a holding company.

Public Works act 1864

From the time of the first Public Works act in 1864, Māori land could be taken for government projects such as roads, and later, railways and airports. The Crown often favoured Māori land over general land for these purposes since it could pay the owners less compensation, or none at all. Land not needed for the purposes for which it was taken had to be offered back to the original owners. The Crown often failed to apply this section.

Maori Lands Administration Act 1900

The Maori Lands Administration Act 1900 aimed to reduce Māori protest at the loss of land. It established seven regional Māori Land Councils, each of five to seven members. The councils had a Māori majority but a European chair. In 1905 they were reconstituted as boards with a membership reduced to three, only one of whom had to be Māori. From 1913 the boards required just two members – the judge and registrar of the Land Court. From 1928 Māori Land Boards could exercise all the powers of the legal owners of the land. In 1952, in recognition of the Māori effort during the Second World War, the boards were disestablished and decision-making returned to tribes and communities. By this time more than 90% of Māori land had been alienated.

The Māori Trustee

From 1920 the Native Trustee took over management of all Māori reserves from the Public Trustee. After the Second World War, the position was renamed Māori Trustee. Under the Maori Land Amendment Act 1952, the trustee also managed Māori leasehold lands. The Maori Affairs Act 1953 instructed the trustee to convert uneconomic shares in multiply-owned lands (shares valued at less than £25) for sale to other owners or the government. In 1967 the level of uneconomic shares was $50. These measures met with widespread opposition from Māori.

Inheritance customs

Māori customs of adoption, marriage and inheritance were different to those of Europeans. For the first century after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, several Māori customs were recognised, at least in part, by the courts when dealing with the inheritance of Māori land. However, from the 1950s a series of laws overruled Māori inheritance customs. This meant that children adopted under Māori custom could no longer inherit Māori land from their adoptive parents.

How to cite this page:

Rāwiri Taonui, 'Te ture – Māori and legislation - Administering Māori land', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/te-ture-maori-and-legislation/page-4 (accessed 21 October 2017)

Story by Rāwiri Taonui, published 20 Jun 2012