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New Zealand Now a World Leader in Indigenous Reconciliation
Largest ever treaty settlement signed in parliament in Wellington, June 25
Alan Wheatley (wheatelz)     Print Article 
Published 2008-06-25 11:02 (KST)   
An historic deal between the New Zealand government and the indigenous people of the country -- the Maori -- was signed a few hours ago (June 25) in parliament, described by the deputy prime minister as the largest single step forward in the reconciliation process.

Dr Michael Cullen, who is also treaty negotiations minister, told Wellington's Dominion Post newspaper the NZ$500 million (US$380 million) treaty settlement named Treelords after the 1990s fisheries deal which created the company Sealord would affect more than 100,000 people.

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The historic deal will see 170,000 hectares of prime forest land in the central North Island which has been valued at NZ$220 million (US$167 million) returned to the ownership of seven local "iwi" or sub-tribes. The Dominion Post reports the seven "iwi" who signed the deal will also be entitled to a share of NZ$230 million (US$174 million) in back rent held in Trust by the Crown Forestry Rental Trust since the land was first earmarked for return in the late 1980s. Maori foresters will also benefit via a yet to be negotiated emissions trading scheme.

Television New Zealand's midday news reports the history-making deal was signed on behalf of the government by Dr Cullen, Maori Affairs Minister, Parekura Horomia, Cabinet Ministers Shane Jones and Mita Ririnui. Ngati Tuwharetoa Paramount Chief Tumu te Heuheu was the first among the signatories for the seven iwi - Ngai Tuhoe, Ngati Whakaue, Ngati Whare, Ngati Manawa, Ngati Raukawa and the Affiliate Te Arawa Iwi and Hapu - in a packed Parliamentary Banquet Hall. Over 500 Maori representing the seven "iwi" came to parliament for the historic ceremony.

The Dominion Post reports Dr Cullen especially acknowledged Ngati Tuwharetoa paramount chief Tumu te Heuheu who initiated the prospect of a collective agreement late last year. In his speech in reply, Dr te Heuheu made special mention of the potential eighth "iwi" in the deal, Ngati Rangitihi. Last week in a highly controversial and much publicised move, the" iwi" voted against being involved in the deal.

Dr te Heuheu said the parties to the agreement could not afford to lose the strength brought to the negotiating table by Ngati Rangitihi's lead negotiator Mr Henry Pryor. He extended his personal encouragement to Ngati Rangitihi to utilize the offer by Dr Cullen to come back within the 'Treelords' collective umbrella. The NZ Herald reports Treaty Negotiations Minister Michael Cullen said a door was still open to Ngati Rangitihi, which had been part the collective, if it agreed to the settlement in the next six months.

The live televised signing took place after a "powhiri" or celebratory greeting in the Banquet Hall at New Zealand's Parliament in Wellington. Hundreds of "iwi" members were present for the ceremony which lasted several hours before the signing itself.

Maori Affairs Minister Parekura Horomia told the NZ Herald that when the deal was finalised, the central North Island collective of Maori would be the largest single land owner in the country's massive forestry industry and also one of its biggest investors. Dr Cullen meanwhile told the herald that while the settlement was a major achievement that would impact positively on central North Island Maori and the region, it was also one that all New Zealanders would take benefit from.

He said today's landmark event meant "iwi" represented in the collective would finally have a real opportunity to realise their full economic potential.

During the so-called Maori wars of the mid 19th century, the colonial government seized hundreds of thousands of hectares of Maori land all over the country citing military and developmental reasons. They provided scant compensation to Maori, whose land in many cases was -- and remains -- deeply spiritual and the land seizures were a source of great grief to many Maori and their families.

The process of reconciliation was begun in the mid 1980s with the government returning much of the land which often included European assets and even significant improvements, and also paying local Maori many millions of dollars in compensation. Several prime ministers since the mid 1980s have acknowledged the wrong-doing of the colonial government and at least one has openly apologised to Maori.

The process, known as the Treaty of Waitangi Settlements, was often fraught with tensions and bitter disagreements between Maori and the government as each accused the other, but the fact remains, the colonial government of the day took the land -- in most cases illegally -- and held it for nearly 150 years with little or no compensation.

In this critical election for New Zealand, the government is keenly aware that there are still a number of high-profile settlements to take place before the process- which has already cost multi-billions of dollars is complete.


©2008 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Alan Wheatley

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