Bogus Ngati Whatua Settlement

Bogus Ngati Whatua Settlement

By- Reuben P. Chapple

The recent Crown-Ngati Whatua Treaty settlement is yet another example of how an iwi elite has gamed the system – aided and abetted by an overwhelmingly liberal political, bureaucratic, academic, judicial, legal, and media elite, who want to be able to look in the mirror and give themselves a big hug for ‘saving’ the Maori.

In point of fact, the Crown’s dealings with Ngati Whatua o Orakei are a house of cards resting entirely on an uncritical acceptance of the tribe’s claim to “mana whenua” over the Auckland Isthmus.

The claim that Ngati Whatua o Orakei “never surrendered power and authority over their traditional lands and resources” is arrant nonsense. When Ngati Whatua signed the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, the Crown became sovereign over them. As we will see, they voluntarily “sold” land they mostly never occupied, cultivated, or hunted and gathered over, thus extinguishing any residual “mana whenua” over that land.

In September 1840, Ngati Whatua accepted cash and goods from the Crown for the       3, 000 acres of land on which Auckland City now stands. Over the next two years, the tribe similarly alienated a further 29, 000 acres. Even if one actually owns something, once sold, it’s gone for good, and the seller has no further claim to it.

In point of fact, like so many other early land sales, Ngati Whatua’s ownership claims at the time of sale were tenuous at best. Before the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840, Maori tribes were in a constant state of war with one another. There were no legally enforceable property rights and various groups occupied land only for as long as they could defend it against outsiders. Where conquest is the only basis to an ownership claim there is no right, only force. And there is no security.

For more than 100 years before the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, the Auckland isthmus had been a war zone that Thomas Hobbes would have recognized, a “continual fear and danger of violent death” rendering life “nasty, brutish, and short”.

In Auckland’s “war of all against all” Ngati Paoa, Kawerau, Ngati Maru, Ngati Huarere, Te Waiohua, and Ngati Whatua fought repeatedly across the narrow strip of land between the two harbours. Ngati Whatua, originally based further north on the Kaipara Harbour, colonised the locality around 1780 by exterminating its most recent former occupants, Te Waiohua.

Yet according to the Waitangi Tribunal’s revisionist online Orakei Resource Kit For Schools: “Ngati Whatua of Orakei … [have] lived in the Auckland area for many hundreds of years.” This deliberate fudging of history is intended to smuggle away inconvenient facts that undermine Ngati Whatua’s claim to Treaty redress.

The Tribunal’s assertion can only be true if one counts as “Ngati Whatua” descendants of surviving Te Waiohua women forced into concubinage by their Ngati Whatua conquerors (Te Waiohua and its predecessors having overrun and subsumed earlier occupants of the Auckland isthmus in identical manner).

What goes around comes around. Starting in 1818, the Tamaki Isthmus was repeatedly invaded by musket-toting Ngapuhi, who slaughtered or enslaved anyone they could get their hands on. The Encyclopaedia of New Zealand records that as a result: “much of the isthmus was abandoned as tribes sought shelter in the Tainui region.”

Though a handful of Ngati Whatua crept timidly back to Okahu Bay and Greenhithe in 1835, Historian, RCJ Stone, notes: “fear of Ngapuhi prevented them [Ngati Whatua] from occupying their old home for many years afterwards, indeed, not until Auckland was founded [in September 1840] did they feel safe [to come back].”

Leading Ngati Whatua chief Āpihai Te Kawau signed the Treaty of Waitangi at Awhitu on the South Head of Manukau Harbour, where a rump group of his hapu had been living for a number of years after fleeing from Ngapuhi. He did so after inviting Governor William Hobson to make Auckland his capital and offering land for this purpose as an insurance against further Ngapuhi raids.

Ngati Whatua thus took money from the Crown for land they’d cravenly vacated more than a decade before: land they couldn’t have used or occupied in any meaningful sense for a very long time. The “sale” placed the Governor and his troops between Ngati Whatua returnees and renewed hostilities from Ngapuhi.

As well, payment from the Crown underscored to neighbouring tribes that the mana of the land “remained” with Ngati Whatua, though in fact it had long since been extinguished by Ngapuhi in the same manner as Ngati Whatua had displaced Te Waiohua around 60 years before.

While a clever stroke of business from both a practical and a Maori perspective, this hardly supports demands from Ngati Whatua for political and economic control over one of Auckland’s iconic public landmarks.

Latest Census data (2006) records some 14, 721 New Zealanders of Anglo-Ngati Whatua descent, with some 7, 152 residing in Auckland. At a public meeting to discuss the Fort Takapuna giveaway, Tiwana Tibble, representing Ngati Whatua o Orakei Trust Board, advised that the Trust has “around 5, 000 [enrolled] beneficiaries.”

In ignoring the inherent unsustainability of Ngati Whatua’s mana whenua claim, Minister of Treaty Settlements, Christopher Finlayson and his advisers have made a call that the self-serving demands of a handful of Aucklanders of Anglo-Ngati Whatua descent should trump the rights of 1.3 million other Aucklanders (and more specifically 230, 000 residents of the former North Shore City) to their public open space at Fort Takapuna.

There are just two sets of needs being met here: Anglo-Ngati Whatua seeking the psychic and financial rewards of belonging to a supposedly “oppressed” people; and former Ngai Tahu Treaty claim lawyer, Christopher Finlayson’s compulsive urge to maximise his moral preening opportunities while forcing the rest of us to pay for it.

How about [1] the people of Auckland; and [2] the taxpayers of New Zealand?

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