Mike Butler: Is Ngati Ranginui deal justified?

About 200 people turned up at a forum in Tauranga on Monday night, to have misconceptions about local tribe Ngati Ranginui’s $38-million settlement dispelled. That such a public meeting was deemed necessary implies a level of opposition to the deal that is yet to be ratified by the tribe. Usually, treaty settlements are agreed upon in private and the signed agreement is legally binding requiring legislation to release the money. How can this settlement be justified?

In a press release, Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson said the settlement, that was signed on June 23 at Te Ranga, near Tauranga, provides redress recognising that “Ngati Ranginui and other Tauranga iwi have suffered some of the worst grievances in New Zealand’s history including the loss of life and the raupatu of land”. The Office of Treaty Settlements summary skirts the issues and the Waitangi Tribunal’s Report on the Tauranga Confiscation Claims offers a split decision.

If this was among the worst grievances in New Zealand’s history, Ngati Ranginui was not mentioned in an 1882 list of complaints taken by chiefs to England for Queen Victoria to ponder. (1) The 1926 Sim commission found that confiscations in the Bay of Plenty were largely fair. The only Bay of Plenty grievance in the 1940s round of settlements was that of Whakatohea that had sustained land confiscation, for a lump sum payment of £20,000, in the Finance No. 2 Act on October 12, 1946.

It appears that the Ngati Ranginui grievance was re-discovered after 1985, when the Fourth Labour Government opened the way for further historical compensation by permitting the investigation of issues back to 1840.

Nga Hapu o Ngati Ranginui’s historical claims, according to the settlement summary, concern the war and confiscation at Tauranga; the purchase of the Te Puna-Katikati blocks soon after the war; the consequences of Ngati Ranginui resisting confiscation and Te Puna-Katikati purchase during the Crown’s “bush campaign”; the effects of the Crown’s native land laws and later Maori land legislation; and public works takings during the second half of the twentieth century. (2)

Ngati Ranginui’s claims are among 55 separate claims also involving Ngai Te Rangi, Waitaha, and the Marutuahu people, according to the Waitangi Tribunal’s Report on the Tauranga Confiscation Claims. The claims stem from the battles at Gate Pa (Pukehinahina) on April 29, 1864, and Te Ranga on July 21, 1864, following on from the Waikato war (3) in which “the Maori aim was to sweep the pakeha to the sea, and the pakeha government’s object was to teach the Maori his subjection to British authority”. (4)

At the Battle of Gate Pa, about 230 Maori fighters under chief Rawiri Puhirake defeated 1700 British troops after withstanding a day of British artillery bombardment, the heaviest of the New Zealand Wars.(5) One hundred and eleven government fighters were killed while Gate Pa Maori lost 25. At the ensuing Battle of Te Ranga, Puhirake was killed and his fighters defeated.

Ngai Te Rangi peace negotiators were able to make a symbolic submission and retain most of their lands, mainly out of the government’s respect for the slaim chief Puhirake. Nevertheless, the entire Tauranga district, estimated at 290,000 acres (117,359 hectares), was included in a confiscation proclamation issued in1865. The Crown returned 240,000 acres (97,125ha) but kept a 50,000-acre (20,234ha) area. The land returned was in individual rather than customary title meaning it could be sold without having to go through the Native Land Court. Maori land owners opted to sell to become part of the new economy. (6)

The Bay of Plenty area prospered over the years with little sign of discontent until the possibility of further historical compensation came into being once issues back to 1840 could be investigated. Along with $38,027,555 financial redress, the Ngati Ranginui commercial redress includes the right to buy 48 land bank properties, three Land Information New Zealand sites, and Puwhenua Forest Lands jointly with Ngati Rangiwewehi and Tapuika, and a right of first refusal for fish species introduced into the Quota Management System, according to the report summary.

Cultural redress includes vesting 13 sites totalling 846.3ha. Oraeroa will be vested as a sacred area (wahi tapu) with no public access. Omokoroa School land will be transferred to the tribe subject to sale and leaseback to the Ministry of Education. The tribe will control the Margaret Jackson Wildlife Management Reserve. Six geographic names will change, two unnamed sites will be named, and the names of two Crown protected areas will be altered.

Ngati Ranginui is one of eight Bay of Plenty tribal groups. If $38-million becomes the average financial redress amount, the total for the area may reach $304-million. How could the government consider paying over that amount of money for a grievance that did not exist in 1882, and was dismissed in the 1920s? How could a 1920s inquiry say that Bay of Plenty Maori were fairly treated, and the Waitangi Tribunal and Treaty Negotiations Minister conclude that “Tauranga iwi have suffered some of the worst grievances in New Zealand’s history”?

Another big unanswered question is whether taking military action against the government is a treaty breach. If the tribes who fought against the government breached the treaty, how can they call on the terms of the treaty to justify compensation without recognising that their breach of the treaty warranted the punishment that was already quite leniently inflicted upon them? Sir Apirana Ngata, whose face is on every $50 banknote, was clear that the land confiscations could not be objected to in light of the treaty. He wrote in 1922:

Some have said that these confiscations were wrong and that they contravened the articles of the Treaty of Waitangi. The Government placed in the hands of the Queen of England, the sovereignty and the authority to make laws. Some sections of the Maori people violated that authority. War arose from this and blood was spilled. The law came into operation and land was taken in payment. This itself is a Maori custom – revenge, plunder to avenge a wrong. It was their own chiefs who ceded that right to the Queen. The confiscations cannot therefore be objected to in the light of the treaty. (7)

The Tauranga report is unique in that tribunal member Michael Bassett wrote a dissenting opinion taking issue with three of the general findings of the majority members. He argued that the Crown was justified in taking military action against Tauranga Maori in the 1860s. He argued that individualising the tenure of Maori land there was not a treaty breach, and he argued that there was no failure on the part of the Crown in supervising the alienation of returned Maori land.(8)

Therefore, if Ngati Ranginui fought against the government and thereby breached the terms of the Treaty of Waitangi, and if the Crown was justified in taking military action, and was correct in allowing Tauranga Maori to sell their land and directly benefit in the new economy, what justification is there for the current $38-million settlement and associated cultural redress?

The Gate Pa flag is fixed with the Union Jack flag on either side of the memorial to the New Zealand Wars in the Auckland War Memorial Museum. The inscription on the memorial reads “Kia mate toa. In memory of all those who gave their lives during the New Zealand Wars 1845-1872. Through war they won the peace we know.”

The government’s apparent rush to hand over cash, assets, co-management, landmarks, and sacred areas to newly created tribal entities implies some sort of unease that could come from believing the anti-colonist allegations made by the Waitangi Tribunal. The bravery, military skill, and chivalry of the 1860s campaigns, when people died for their causes, contrast with the expedience and opportunism that is a part of politics today. It would appear that our current political leaders either have forgotten or are ignorant of our brief history.

Ngati Ranginui, with Ngati Te Rangi and Ngati Pukenga iwi had ownership of Mount Maunganui transferred to them from the Crown on May 14, 2008, by an act of Parliament.

1. Ranginui Walker, Struggle Without End, p. 162. Lord Kimberley received the petition on behalf of the Queen and referred the deputation back to the New Zealand government, and Prime Minister Frederick Whittaker dismissed the petition.
2. Ngati Ranginui Settlement Summary
3. Te Raupatu o Tauranga Moana: Report on the Tauranga Confiscation Claims
4. James Cowan, The New Zealand Wars and the Pioneering Period, (Wellington, Government Printer, 1955) Vol 1, p. 241
5. Jinty Rorke. ‘Puhirake, Rawiri – Biography’, from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 1-Sep-10
URL: http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/biographies/1p30/1
6. Te Raupatu o Tauranga Moana: Report on the Tauranga Confiscation Claims
7. Ngata, Sir Apirana, The Treaty of Waitangi – An Explanation, Maori Purposes Fund Board, 1922, p. 37
8. Te Raupatu o Tauranga Moana: Report on the Tauranga Confiscation Claims

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