New Zealand: Maori sign deal on land rights

Seven Maori tribes signed New Zealand's largest-ever settlement on grievances over the loss of lands and fisheries during European settlement in the 19th century. Hundreds of Maori, some wearing traditional feather cloaks, gathered at Wellington to watch the agreement being signed in parliament by the government and tribal leaders. Some wept during the ceremony, while others chanted, sang and blew conch shells.

The $319 million agreement will transfer ownership of 435,000 acres of plantation forest and associated rents from the central government to the seven North Island tribes. The seven tribes include more than 100,000 people.

Maori lands and forests were protected by the founding Treaty of Waitangi, signed with European settlers in 1840, but huge tracts of land were later taken for settlement. Maori have been pursuing grievance claims since the early 1840s.

The deed of settlement agreement, known informally as the Treelords deal, restores land rights to the Central North Island Forest Iwi Collective, an organization made up of Maori iwi,or social units. Under the settlement, negotiated by the Office of Treaty Settlements, all rental and other income from the land will be held in a newly-established trust holding company, whose shareholders are the Maori iwis. (Reuters, The Independent, Jurist, June 26)

Meanwhile, Maori are claiming the airspace above the proposed Rotorua Airport on behalf of a marae (sacred site) directly below flight paths for the proposed international airport. The Ngati Uenukukopako iwi launched the claim after discovering at a recent Environment Court hearing in Rotorua that the airspace above their marae is controlled by the Civil Aviation Authority. If their rights are recognized, it could give them control over operating hours, or the power to impose a curfew.

Spokesman Te Ruapeka Taikato, in Wellington for the Treelords signing ceremony, said his iwiwants a say on how the airspace above their marae is used, seeking an eleventh-hour inclusion of the airspace claim into the Affiliate Te Arawa Iwi and Hapu Claims Settlement Bill before Parliament. Treaty Negotiations Minister Michael Cullen ruled this out, saying the airspace claim did not fit within the ambit of Te Arawa's historical Treaty settlement. (Dominion Post, June 26)

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