11 May 2017

Māori leaders challenge requirement for continuous occupation

9:15 am on 11 May 2017

It is almost impossible for Māori to claim their rights to the coast, say some Māori leaders who are taking their concerns to the Waitangi Tribunal.

Beached empty paua shell.

Māori are being asked to prove continuous occupation of the land, but some leaders say that is unfair and nearly impossible. Photo: 123rf

To get Customary Marine Title, Māori must prove that they have continuously occupied the area since 1840 without substantial interruption.

Ngāpuhi leader Rihari Dargaville said that was not fair on Māori who were driven off their land by the Crown.

"To say that you must prove that you have been on that block continuously is nonsense."

He said he and other Māori leaders were preparing to go to the Waitangi Tribunal to challenge the continuous occupation requirement.

"What we are doing now is forcing in urgency to actually remove those standards so, in fact, a fair court case can be held.

"It was the actions of the Crown that ... removed us from those very coastal areas we are talking about today.

Customary claims under the Marine and Coastal Areas Act had to be made by the start of April and applicants could choose to have theirs dealt with by the Crown or through the High Court.

A total of 380 claims were made to the Crown, and the High Court received a further 170 applications.

Ngāti Porou ki Hauraki chief negotiator John Tamihere has been trying to get Customary Marine Title since 2005 and said Māori lands had been invaded consistently to the point where continuous occupation was nearly impossible to prove.

"The legislation does not take into account perverse acts done to Māori, robbing them of their ability to assert exclusivity," Mr Tamihere said.

Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson and Prime Minister Bill English have both said the criteria to gain customary title was very high and most claims would be unable to meet it.

Mr Tamihere said the process for his iwi had been complex and expensive, which was another reason only one iwi had gone through it. Ngāti Pahauwera has been offered title to 23km of coastline south of Wairoa.

Ngāti Pahauwera Trust chairman Toro Waaka said that had been a mission to get, and in the end the iwi had only retained rights to the wet part of the beach between high and low tide.

"They are trying to sort of hoodwink Māori, because what is the point of going through all of that when really all you get is an acknowledgement of the wet part of the beach, whereas lots of european title goes right into the sea," he said.

Mr Waaka said the whānau had not yet accepted the offer but he would be advising them to do so.

He said the iwi was not granted recognition of its wāhi tapu and it had made a further application to the High Court to deal with what it missed out on.

Māori leader Maanu Paul, who made a claim for the entire New Zealand coastline in the hope that those who missed the application period could join in his, is also part of the team taking the continuous occupation problem to the Waitangi Tribunal.

Maanu Paul

Maanu Paul (file photo) Photo: RNZ Laura Bootham

He said it did not stack up with international law.

"Unless there is a piece of legislation saying that their customary rights to the foreshore and seabed were removed, they still have them and that's international law," he said.

"Let's clean this nonsense up."

Mr Finlayson scoffed at Mr Paul's claim last week, saying he would struggle to prove he had occupied the entire coastline since 1840.