A Ngapuhi elder has told the Waitangi Tribunal that Governor William Hobson promised his ancestor to return all land stolen from Maori before the Treaty of Waitangi, but failed to keep that promise.
Hapu from the Bay of Islands have opened their case at a hearing of more than 300 claims from Northland tribes. The tribunal is sitting at Waitangi for the first week.
Patukeha kaumatua Moko Puru told the hearing on Tuesday that 59,000 acres of Maori land was lost in the Bay of Islands before 1840.
Mr Puru said when the Crown reviewed those sales, and took back land falsely claimed by settlers, it kept most of it, instead of returning it to the Maori owners.
He said the actions of the Crown and agencies, including the Maori Land Court, since then amount to legalised land theft.
Mr Puru said his forefathers signed Te Tiriti (the Treaty of Waitangi) on the understanding it would bring peace and prosperity to their people - but the story of the Bay of Islands hapu has been one of deprivation, disempowerment and disillusionment.
The renowned carver from Te Rawhiti said his people now live in poverty, surrounded by immense wealth.
Mr Puru said they watch others reap the benefits of a tourism industry based on their beautiful landscape and the reputation of the Bay of Islands as the supposed cradle of nationhood.