Māori have a long history of fighting for our whenua. In less than a century, we lost 95 percent of our land. Much of it by force or stealth. The Crown has facilitated and instigated this dispossession.
The Māori Land Court, originally named the Native Land Court, earned the familiar title “te kooti tango whenua” – “the land-taking court” for its role in further alienating Māori from our remaining lands.
Following the Māori Land March in 1975 where Dame Whina Cooper coined the call of our struggle “Not one more acre”, the enactment of Te Ture Whenua Māori Act 1993 represented a victory in Māori land law. With its focus on promoting the retention, use, development and control of Māori land as a taonga tuku iho it comes as no surprise that in 2016, with less than five percent of the land remaining in Māori title that many Māori view any proposed changes to the 1993 Act with a great deal of suspicion. As Te Ururoa often acknowledges these are not so much matters of the head, but issues of the heart: “Ko te whenua e hangai ana ki te ngākau Māori”.
The current reform of Māori land law has been 17 years in the making. Māori landowners have repeatedly asked for more control over the governance of their land so it is easier for them to use as they see fit, while retaining its intergenerational ownership.
The Ture Whenua Māori Bill, which is due to go into Parliament this year, strengthens the protections around land retention. It gives owners the option to raise the bar on the selling of Māori land so it would be virtually impossible to sell it. Under the current Act, a vote by 75 percent of all shareholders is required to transfer Māori title into general thus making it available for sale. In the Bill, owners have the ability to raise that threshold to 100 percent. The Bill has also changed the rules around customary land so it can no longer be sold.
How then can opponents call this a modern-day land grab?
The Labour Party is encouraging people to sign a petition calling for the end to the reforms with an emotive call to “Help protect Māori land for our mokopuna”. The Mana Party has ramped up the personal attacks on Te Ururoa in social media. Apparently general media outlets aren’t too discerning either, with opinion pieces published that include incorrect information on key points.
The Gisborne Herald has run a series of negative articles on the Ture Whenua reform, including this letter to the editor "Land confiscation in 2016?"
The writer claims that the Treaty of Waitangi is absent from the new Bill, just another sign that it’s a step towards alienation: “I am concerned when the Treaty of Waitangi is taken out of the new Te Ture Whenua Act, where it should underpin the Act’s principles.”
Available online is a copy of the draft Bill which includes the Purposes and Principles of the new Act. The principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, rangatiratanga and taonga tuku iho are stronger in the new Bill than the current Act.
Here’s the English version of the purpose:
The purpose of this Act is to recognise and provide for the mana and tino rangatiratanga that since time immemorial Māori have exercised and continue to exercise over their lands, resources and taonga in accordance with tikanga Māori and, consistent with the guarantees given to Māori in Te Tiriti o Waitangi, to protect the right of owners of Māori land to retain, control, occupy, and develop their land as a taonga tuku iho for the benefit of present and future generations of owners, their whānau, and their hapū.
The principles (on page 22 of the draft bill) echo those core Māori values and the central role of Te Tiriti in applying the Ture Whenua Māori Bill.
A Māori language version of the Purpose and Principles section in the new Bill is yet to be finalised. But when it is completed, it will override the English version.
It defies logic that people are able to make such false claims, particularly in reputable newspapers. Protections in the Bill have been strengthened as has the central role of Te Tiriti o Waitangi in the application of all laws affecting Māori land.
To find out more about the reform of Te Ture Whenua Māori, go to www.tpk.govt.nz