Maori returning to collective land management

1:07 pm on 9 November 2015

More and more whanau are trying to fix the inequities of Maori land ownership by creating collectives to manage it, Waitangi Tribunal claimant Piripi Moore says.

Tuhirangi Marae , Waima, Hokianga

Tuhirangi Marae. Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams

The Tribunal has heard that Ngapuhi women who held land were sidelined in favour of their husbands when the Crown first issued titles to Maori land in the 1860s.

It's the first time the issue has been raised in the Tribunal's long-running inquiry into the historic grievances of Ngapuhi and other northern iwi.

Mr Moore, a Hokianga claimant, said junior branches of whanau and people who did not make it to the land court hearings also missed out on being named as shareholders.

However, he said court archives contained a lot information about those people, making it possible to include their descendants in new structures that would reflect the original customary interests.

The Crown system of creating individual shares in Maori land had made the process dysfunctional for generations, but Mr Moore said the proposed review of Te Ture Whenua Act might make it easier.

Women disregarded

Hera Dear-Tapsell

Hera Dear-Tapsell Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams

Hariata

Hariata, pictured with her husband Te Matenga , had authority over vast tracts of hapu land Photo: Supplied

Hera Dear-Tapsell has lodged a claim on behalf of the high-ranking or ariki women in the north, who found themselves displaced in favour of their husbands or fathers in the 19th century as British justice took over.

Women like her great-great-grandmother, Hariata, had authority over vast tracts of hapu land and the responsibility to distribute it fairly.

But once the Crown began deciding which Maori should have title to which land and allocating individual titles, women were sidelined.

Ms Dear-Tapsell said in the old documents it was Hariata's husband's name that appeared.

"He seemed to get all the attention, he was sitting in on all the land courts."

She said there was no mention of her grandmother attending court meetings to do with land.

The claimants' lawyer, Gerald Sharrock, said in British common law at the time, women had no property rights, they were essentially chattels of their husbands.

He said it would have been "unthinkable" for the British authorities at the time to deal with a woman like Hariata over financial or property matters. "Her rights over land would be disregarded."

Lawyer Gerald Sharrock

Lawyer Gerald Sharrock Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams

By the time the New Zealand law was remedied by the Married Women's Property Act in 1870 it was too late as much of the land had been sold and it was rare to find a Maori woman's name on the title.

Ms Dear said it was not just land that was lost - ariki mana wahine like Hariata performed important social and spiritual roles that were eroded when they lost their authority over whenua.