Making sense of the Ngāpuhi mandate

8:10 pm on 28 September 2016

Analysis - Tūhoronuku says it will now fully accept a plan to hand over the reins to hapū in negotiating Ngāpuhi's Treaty of Waitangi claim. Lois Williams explains what it means.

Sign at Hokianga hapu's Waitangi Tribunal land claim hearing, Tuhirangi Marae, Waima, 16 April.

A sign at Hokianga hapū Waitangi Tribunal land claim hearing shows their opposition to Tūhoronuku. Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams

What's a mandate again?

Ngapuhi leader Sonny Tau

Sonny Tau set up Tūhoronuku to hold Ngāpuhi's mandate. Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams

When an iwi or hapū sets about settling its treaty claims, it must convince the government that it has the mandate or authority to do so.

If the Crown is satisfied it's talking to the right people, it formally recognises the mandate, and negotiations can begin.

In Ngāpuhi's case - because it's a huge iwi of about 120,000 people and more than 100 hapū - this has taken about seven years and more than $4 million of government funding.

This lengthy process was begun by then Ngāpuhi rūnanga (council) chair, Raniera (Sonny) Tau, who set up a board - Tūhoronuku - to hold the mandate. The government recognised the Tūhoronuku mandate in 2014.

So what went wrong?

map with Ngapuhi

Estimates of the settlement for Ngāpuhi range from $200 to $300 million. Photo: Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand

Tūhoronuku ran into opposition early on from hapū and major sub-tribes including Ngāti Hine, who did not trust the rūnanga and disputed its right to lead the charge.

They argued that hapū leaders signed Te Tiriti (the Treaty), and hapū should drive any settlement. That belief was reinforced by the Waitangi Tribunal's 2014 finding that hapū chiefs did not cede their sovereignty to the Crown when they signed Te Tiriti.

They also objected to the structure of Tūhoronuku, and they took their grievance about this to the Waitangi Tribunal.

Why has that mandate been described as flawed?

Last year, the Waitangi Tribunal found Tūhoronuku did not fairly represent the many hapū of Ngāpuhi, and said the mandate was seriously flawed.

The tribunal went as far as describing Tūhoronuku itself as an empty vessel.

It upheld the grievances of many hapū who complained that Tūhoronuku members had been appointed claiming to represent them, but without their support or consent, and that removing them was impossible.

So the mandate was void?

No - the tribunal said negotiations should stop, but that the arguing parties and the Crown should get together and try to fix the mandate.

The Maranga Mai report is the outcome of seven months' work by a joint working party, involving Tūhoronuku, hapū alliance Te Kotahitanga and the Crown, to remedy those flaws.

It recommends dividing the vast Ngāpuhi claims region into five or six takiwā, or districts of hapū clusters, plus an urban Māori takiwā, which would each elect a member to a small central executive, Te Hononga Iti.

Is there a problem with that?

Tūhoronuku's leaders are not happy with the proposed make-up of the executive body, Te Hononga Iti, because unlike Tūhoronuku it does not provide separate seats for kuia/kaumātua, or the various urban areas.

It's also concerned that sub-dividing Ngāpuhi in this way could lead to a fragmented settlement with the total being divided up between hapū groups, and potential economic gains for the iwi dissipated.

Te Kotahitanga on the other hand sees those concerns as a blind for efforts by Tūhoronuku leaders Hone Sadler and Sonny Tau to retain central power and control of the settlement.

What's the Treaty Negotiations Minister saying?

Chris Finlayson speaking to Ngati Hineuru.

Chris Finlayson says the mandate signed with Tūhoronuku in 2014 provides options to recognise different iwi interests. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson has told Tūhoronuku the Maranga Mai report does not propose six to eight hapū settlements, but continues to propose a unified approach to the negotiations.

"I have outlined my intention to negotiate one commercial redress Agreement in Principle with Ngāpuhi by August 2017," the minister said in a letter.

"Other negotiation work streams, such as cultural redress and historical redress, are progressed on a slightly longer timeframe."

But Mr Finlayson said the mandate agreement signed with Tūhoronuku in 2014 always provided options to recognise differing interests within the iwi.

"For example by devolving settlement assets to hapū based on takiwā , or by holding assets collectively and providing specific roles for hapū through future iwi governance."

So what happens now?

If the minister is satisfied Tūhoronuku has accepted Maranga Mai with no strings attached, Ngāpuhi can move into the next phase. Negotiations could resume next year.

The next step is to set up a transition group to oversee the creation of a new independent mandate authority.

That new authority would oversee the negotiations.

But once the massive claim is settled, Ngāpuhi face yet another significant challenge: the formation of a Post Settlement Governance Entity (PGSE).

The PSGE will manage the assets and money which hapū decide should be held collectively, for Ngāpuhi as a whole.

Estimates of the settlement for the country's biggest iwi have ranged from $200 to $300 million.

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