Who can submit a claim?
Any Māori (including any descendant of a Māori) can submit a claim to the Waitangi Tribunal. Claimants usually employ lawyers to help prepare their claims and present evidence, and often qualify for legal aid to meet those costs.
Historical and contemporary claims
Claims were classified by the tribunal as historical if they dealt with Crown policy or practice prior to 21 September 1992, and contemporary for matters arising after that date. Under the Treaty of Waitangi Amendment Act 2006, the tribunal stopped registering new historical claims on 2 September 2008.
Researching a claim
Once a claim was accepted by the Waitangi Tribunal, tribunal staff decided what research would be necessary to fully investigate it. That research was likely to include the traditional history of the claimants’ iwi, hapū or whānau, and surviving oral traditions about the impact of Crown actions and their prejudicial effects on claimants. Research was carried out by the tribunal itself and by the claimants. Claimants could apply to fund their research through the Crown Forestry Rental Trust (which collected fees from Crown-licensed forestry land which might be returned to claimants). The Crown also commissioned research into the claims.
Research for Waitangi Tribunal claims was carried out by tribunal staff and by independent researchers. Much of this research was detailed and complex, and resulted in new discoveries or interpretations of New Zealand’s race-relations history. Sometimes the claims research was later published in book form. Books partly based on tribunal research include: Encircled lands: Te Urewera, 1820–1921, by Judith Binney; The beating heart: a political and socio-economic history of Te Arawa, by Vincent O'Malley and David Armstrong; and This is my place: Hauraki contested 1769–1875, by Paul Monin.
Written and oral research
The resulting research covered a wide range of evidential material. It included technical reports written by professional historians. These were publicly available, often of great historical value and in some cases published in book form. However, the tribunal also welcomed research in the form of eyewitness accounts of historical events, visual demonstrations of places and their significance, oral traditions, ceremonial songs and orations. At times the Crown also delivered some of its research in oral form, for example through the testimony of former civil servants.
Since 1996 the full body of research prepared for a particular inquiry has been compiled into a casebook that formed the basis for the tribunal’s hearings into those claims. The casebooks from tribunal inquiries over many years amount to a comprehensive study of land loss or alienation and other forms of Pākehā–Māori interaction since 1840. It is likely that no comparable country has so fully researched its colonial history as has New Zealand through the tribunal inquiry process.