3 May 2017

Coastline claims 'not about ownership' - Māori

5:54 am on 3 May 2017

Iwi claims on New Zealand's coastline are about recognising ties to the land - not about ownership, leaders say.

More than 380 claims for customary and protective rights have been made under the Marine and Coastal Area Act but the government says only a handful of them will be successful.

silhouette of family on the beach at dusk.

Photo: 123RF

The countdown to making claims for customary title of the coastlines had been in place since the Marine and Coastal Areas Act was made law in 2011.

The deadline closed on 3 April and applications were being submitted right up until the final hour.

Māori could chose to either negotiate their claim with the Crown or file it in court.

The Ministry of Justice has received 381 claims, not including applications made to the High Court.

Ngāti Toa Rangatira has interests in the coastlines of the Marlborough sounds and its governing body chose to deal with the Crown directly.

Te Rūnanga o Toa Rangatira chair Matiu Rei said customary recognition was valuable to iwi.

"This is not about ownership, it is about defining customary area," he said.

"Each tribe has a customary area and while they may overlap they are nevertheless important from an iwi perspective that it maintains and sustains its interest in its customary area."

Mr Rei said it intersects with a number of laws and could strengthen the tribe's position when making other claims.

Gaining Customary Marine Title or Protective Marine Title means they are notified about resource applications and, in some cases, can decline permission.

Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson said the test to get customary title was to prove continuous occupation since 1840 without substantial interruption.

Prime Minister Bill English said only a handful of claims would meet the criteria.

"The legislation that is in place makes it quite difficult for those claims to be turned into reality," Mr English said.

The law states that the marine and coastal area is not and can never be owned by anyone.

Customary title would not stop the public from going to the beach or fishing.

On the contrary, Motiti Island hapū spokesman Hugh Sayers said having it in place could benefit all New Zealanders.

"We want to restore the connection that tangata whenua have and that all New Zealanders desire to have with the moana," he said.

"To be able to exercise our customary rights to gather kaimoana and the customary right to protect through rāhui, to close areas.

"And the public recreational right to get a feed."

Mr Sayers said government agencies and legislation had failed to protect the tribe's taonga and fish stocks had depleted massively.

Crown never held rights over coastline - Ngāti Kahu

In Northland, Ngāti Kahu was turning the tables on the government, with Te Rūnanga-ā-Iwi o Ngāti Kahu chair Margaret Mutu saying the iwi had written to the Crown asking it to prove its rights to the coastlines in its rohe.

"We can't see any evidence that the Crown has ever held any rights whatsoever," Prof Mutu said.

"We are not going to invite the Crown to extinguish our customary rights and title within our territory."

"It can write legislation out of its Parliament but that doesn't mean that it has displaced, in any way shape or form, the mana whenua or the rangatiratanga of Ngāti Kahu hapū."

Prof Mutu said the iwi had issued its own public notices and informed the public to seek the tribe's permission for certain activities.

She said she had some concerns for those who did make a claim.

"They will almost certainly be turned down for rights they have held for centuries.

"The Crown will declare that because you applied to us for recognition and we declined you, therefore you don't have it."