Story: Waitangi Tribunal – Te Rōpū Whakamana

Page 2. Developing the tribunal, 1980s

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Bicultural process

In 1980 Judge Gillanders-Scott was replaced as chair of the tribunal by Eddie Taihakurei Durie (Rangitāne, Ngāti Kauwhata, Ngāti Raukawa) and in 1982 Lawrence Southwick was replaced by lawyer Paul Temm. By that time only seven claims had been investigated and when Temm was first asked to join the tribunal, he had never even heard of it. However, the tribunal then began to hear more claims under a bicultural process that aimed, according to Temm, to ‘marry informality with fairness’.1 Sittings were often held on the claimants’ marae and those who wished to give evidence in the Māori language could do so, with translation facilities provided so all present could understand.

Sea and life

In 1982, for the first time, the Waitangi Tribunal held a hearing on a marae belonging to a claimant tribe – the Te Āti Awa people of Taranaki. The tribe’s spokesperson, Aila Taylor, and other witnesses gave evidence that their tradition of gathering shellfish on offshore reefs was essential to providing hospitality and for tribal mana. The tribunal condemned the planners of a proposed industrial waste outfall for failing to consider the Māori cultural approach to water as a source of food.

Investigating historical claims

The 1984 Labour government significantly extended the authority of the Waitangi Tribunal, which was given retrospective power to investigate claims from the date of the signing of te Tiriti o Waitangi in 1840. The number of tribunal members was increased from three to seven, with at least four being required to be of Māori ancestry. Another seven were appointed as deputy or alternate members. The tribunal gained research and administrative staff. However, it remained an advisory body, with no power to enforce its recommendations to the government.

Landmark claims

From 1983 a series of landmark cases brought the tribunal to the forefront of public and political life.

  • The Taranaki synthetic fuel plant, which was partly Crown-owned, planned to discharge untreated outfall into the sea. Local Te Āti Awa people had gathered shellfish from the affected area for generations and feared pollution of these traditional food sources. In 1983 the tribunal upheld their objections and successfully recommended channelling the outfall to a sewage treatment plant.
  • Māori traditional fishing rights were again upheld in 1984. Claimants objected to a proposal to discharge Rotorua’s treated sewage into an eel fishery in the Kaituna River. The scheme was stopped as a result of the tribunal’s findings. In a later outcome, all new legislation or proposed government policy had to conform to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi.
  • In 1984 the tribunal issued its report on historical aspects of the claim over Ōrākei, in Auckland. This was the first claim it had heard, in 1977, when only contemporary issues could be considered. This time the tribunal recommended that Bastion Point should remain public open space, but be administered jointly by Ngāti Whātua and the Auckland City Council. It also recommended an award of $3 million to Ngāti Whātua – the first cash payment recommended as part of a treaty settlement. The government accepted all the tribunal’s findings.
  • In 1985 the tribunal reported on a claim on behalf of the people of the Manukau Harbour. It concerned pollution of seafood resources and loss of surrounding land from confiscations after the New Zealand wars and for public works. The tribunal’s findings helped bring about the Resource Management Act 1991, which makes statutory allowance for Māori environmental concerns. Two local tribes were named as consultant guardians of Manukau Harbour.
  • The tribunal’s 1986 report on te reo Māori – the Māori language – recommended that Māori should become an official language of New Zealand, and that a newly created body should supervise and foster its use and preservation. These recommendations resulted in the Māori Language Act 1987 (which made Māori an official language), the establishment of Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori (the Māori Language Commission), and increased Māori-language broadcasting.
  • The Ngāi Tahu treaty claim addressed land transactions between 1844 and 1864 that resulted in the tribe losing almost all South Island land. The tribunal released a report in 1991 recommending substantial compensation. In 1998 Ngāi Tahu agreed to compensation valued at $170 million, including the tribe’s ownership of pounamu, rights to sites of significance, a role in managing conservation estate resources and restoration of some original place names.
  • The claim by the tribes of the Muriwhenua region in the Far North included their traditional fishing rights. Before it was fully heard, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries began issuing commercial fishing quotas. An urgent Waitangi Tribunal hearing found that this process breached treaty rights to fishing resources, and the quota allocation was halted. A subsequent 1992 tribunal report led to a settlement that gave iwi throughout New Zealand assets equivalent to 20% of total commercial fishing rights. This was the first tribunal settlement to affect all iwi.
  1. Paul Temm, The Waitangi Tribunal – the conscience of the nation. Auckland: Random Century, 1990, p. 11. Back
How to cite this page:

Mark Derby, 'Waitangi Tribunal – Te Rōpū Whakamana - Developing the tribunal, 1980s', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 16 June 2024)

Story by Mark Derby, published 20 Jun 2012