THE Waitangi Tribunal has released its decision to hold a district inquiry into the historical grievances of Whakatohea.

A three-year wait finally ended this week for claimants who had lodged their claims in the North-Eastern Bay of Plenty Inquiry in 2016.

The Waitangi Tribunal held consultation meetings in Opotiki in 2015 with Judge Carrie Wainwright, which resulted in a Tribunal-led mediation in November 2016.

In spite of ongoing conflict in Whakatohea, ministers Chris Finlayson and Te Ururoa Flavell recognised the mandate of the Whakatohea Pre-settlement Trust on December 14, 2016, only one month after mediation ended.

The claimants filed for an urgent inquiry into the mandate recognised by the Crown in January 2017, which was subsequently granted in July 2017 with hearings being held in November over two weeks.

The Waitangi Tribunal released its 120-page report in April 2018, which found that the Crown’s recognition of the Pre-settlement Trust’s mandate was not fair, reasonable nor made in good faith and that the Crown prioritised its political objective of concluding settlements by mid-2020 over a fair process for Whakatohea.

One of the recommendations of the report was to hold a Whakatohea-wide vote to “test the pulse” of hapu and the iwi and whether they wish to see all negotiations halted so that a Tribunal Inquiry could proceed, or whether they preferred direct negotiations.

All hapu in Whakatohea voted for a district inquiry according to the voting results released in November 2018 with a huge loss of support as previously noted for the Whakatohea Pre-settlement Trust from 91.6 percent down to 56 percent of those that participated in the vote (32.5 percent voter return).

Minister Andrew Little released a statement earlier this year saying that in spite of the narrow margin of support for the Pre-settlement Trust he had asked officials to consider a Tribunal Inquiry process parallel to or subsequent to negotiations.

This created more confusion in Whakatohea, which resulted in road-blocks at Ngai Tamahaua to prevent the Whakatohea Pre-settlement Trust from entering the marae to hold its annual meeting.

“The March 22, 2019 joint statement of the hapu and marae chairs cancelling the WPSCT booking stands. It is unwise for that group to attempt to proceed with any hui at Opape Marae,” said Ngai Tamahaua chairman Peter Selwyn.

“We have had no acknowledgement from the WPSCT of our communications. They are unprofessional in the extreme and disingenuous in their claim they want to engage with hapu.

“The cynical abuse of our marae cannot be permitted and they should be ashamed of their tactics.”

Ngati Ira hapu claimants have also been vocal in communications to the Crown and led a petition in 2017 that was supported by 28 of 31 claimants and four out of six hapu, which the Crown was cross examined at length on as evidence in the urgent hearing showing a huge decline and lack of support for negotiations under the current regime. However, Te Ringahuia Hata, co-claimant for Ngati Ira hapu, said the battle might be won by the war but was far from over with the Crown.

“Whilst Ngati Ira claimants are over the moon at yet another hapu win for us, Mr Little is still intent on resuming negotiations with the Whakatohea Pre- Settlement Trust which is disingenuous in our view.

“Ngati Ira hapu will not be ignored by the Crown. It is a claimant’s right to have the Tribunal inquire into our claims before we move to negotiations and when we do, we will speak for ourselves,” she said.

“We are grateful to the Waitangi Tribunal as this has been a long wait for many of us in Whakatohea who have since passed on. We look forward to a rigorously well researched Tribunal report for Ngati Ira against the Crown for war and raupatu.

“The Battle of Te Tarata and the confiscation of all of my hapu and iwi lands and resources need to be researched, heard and only then healing can begin in my iwi,” said Ms Hata.

“Our history and people who suffered the most will be no longer be ignored. It’s about mana not money.”

Claims trust welcomes inquiry

WHAKATOHEA Pre Settlement Claims Trust has welcomed the Waitangi Tribunal’s decision this week to hold a district inquiry into claims for the north-eastern Bay of Plenty area.

While the results of the Whakatohea vote in November last year showed majority support for the trust to continue to negotiate a settlement for the iwi, it also illustrated that an independent Waitangi Tribunal inquiry was important to a significant number of iwi members.

Chairman Graeme Riesterer said the trust had strongly advocated to the Crown to allow a Waitangi Tribunal hearing to occur either alongside or even after negotiations are completed.

“Our people believe it is important to have our stories and history told so we are heartened that the Waitangi Tribunal had finally granted an inquiry, especially, given that the initial Whakatohea claims were filed over 30 years ago.”

However, the trust believes the Tribunal should revisit its chosen boundaries as they have cut off the western and southern reaches of the Whakatohea rohe. This means that the proposed inquiry can’t look into all aspects of the Whakatohea claims.

“We would have thought that an inquiry into our grievances would have at least been comprehensive. However, with the district inquiry now confirmed, the trust will continue to work with our people and the Crown to progress settlement negotiations to create a win-win situation for Whakatohea,” Mr Riesterer said.

He said the trust remained committed to continued engagement with all Whakatohea to broaden support for a settlement.

“We are hopeful that we can transform our Agreement in Principle into a Deed of Settlement for all our Iwi to vote on in the future,” Mr Riesterer said.

“We urge all Whakatohea uri to come along with us on this journey, so that together we can begin to heal the wounds of the past and bring about a prosperous future for our people.”