Jun 26, 2008

Maori: Historic Deal with New Zealand Government

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The meaningful and substantial acts of reconciliation and compensation undertaken by the New Zealand government as part of a process being undertaken to redress the grievances of the indigenous Maoris of New Zealand are in many ways an example to all UNPO members ...

The meaningful and substantial acts of reconciliation and compensation undertaken by the New Zealand government as part of a process being undertaken to redress the grievances of the indigenous Maoris of New Zealand are in many ways an example to all UNPO members and governments affected by UNPO members of what can be achieved through good will, tolerance and harmony. In a deal signed today, New Zealand’s Maori have received a large swathe of land and monetary compensation, in addition to previous deals.

Below is an article published by Timesonline.co:

They came in their hundreds, singing and weeping tears of joy, to witness the signing of an unprecedented land settlement from the New Zealand government to the Maori people.

Representatives of seven Maori tribes, clad in traditional feather cloaks, gathered at parliament house in Wellington to receive almost NZ$420 million (£161 million) in forestry assets, settling indigenous grievances dating back to the mid 19th century.

The deal, the largest signed to date, grants 100,000 Maori in the central North Island 435,000 acres of commercial forestry land worth more than $NZ195 million.

They will also receive $NZ223 million in accumulated rents as well as yearly rental payments of about NZ$13 million.

Chants and conch shell notes rang out as around seven hundred Maoris thronged at the parliament for an emotional ceremony, many wiping away tears as tribal leaders and ministers put their signatures to the agreement.

“The collective iwi (tribe) will become the largest private forest land owners in New Zealand and the largest land owner in our region,” Tamati Kruger, a spokesman for the collective, said.

“We will become major investors in the forestry sector and the land to be returned is culturally significant to us all."

The deal is part of a process of settling indigenous grievances over their loss of land and other natural resources after sovereignty of the country was signed over by Maori chiefs to Britain in the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840.

Under the agreement, Maori leaders were promised they would keep control of their land and resources, but after British settlers started arriving in large numbers in the mid 19th century the treaty was often disregarded as the colonisers sought to acquire land through confiscation and illegal sales.

Treaty Negotiations Minister Michael Cullen said New Zealand was a lesser nation because of past injustices suffered by the Maori.

“It is a tragedy of our history that in the century and a half that followed the signing of the treaty, the Crown failed to uphold its part of the bargain in so many ways,” Mr Cullen said at the signing ceremony.

“But all has not been lost,” he added.

 “Through the treaty claims and settlement process, we have in recent decades sought to address our historic failure and strive once again to live up to the ideals of the treaty."

The government has been negotiating with the Maori in an attempt to redress historic grievances since the mid-1980s.

The three largest previous settlements - worth about NZ$170 million dollars each - were signed with Maori tribes in the 1990s. The first gave the Maori a major share of Sealord Group Ltd, the largest fishing company in New Zealand and the sixth largest in the world, as reparation for fisheries taken by the government during the 1980s. Others returned large swathes of ancestral land in the North and South Islands taken during the 1860s land wars and in illegal purchases described as “acts of unconscionable theft”.

The government has set a target of 2020 for finalising deals on remaining claims by the Maori, who make up about 15 percent of New Zealand’s 4.2 million population. Today’s agreement [26 June 2008], the first in over a decade, was hailed a historic breakthrough in the country’s quest for reconciliation.

 “It’s a historic journey we are on,” Prime Minister Helen Clark told the crowd. “We came into politics to address injustice and seek reconciliation. Thank you for walking that road with us on this historic day.”

Mr Cullen told the Parliament that the deal, which along with previous agreements leaves over half of New Zealand’s land mass in the hands of the Maori, was the final settlement of all forest claims. However other grievances would be settled separately and would likely involve further redress payments by the government, he said.

The forests transferred today [2008] are mainly large-scale commercial plantations of pine operated by major forestry companies.

“With the transfer of the majority of the forests held bythe Crown in the region to the seven iwi, or tribes, represented in the collective, a nearly half-billion dollar asset base will finally be utilised in the interests of local Maori,” Mr Cullen said.

Maori make up around 15 percent of New Zealand’s 4.2 million population, but languish at the bottom of most social indicators, such as life expectancy, income, employment and educational attainment. They also constitute more than half of the country’s prison population.

Maori paramount chief Dr. Tumu te Heu Heu, chairman of the tribal collective, said their objective was to provide tribes with “a strong, durable and sustainable economic future,” particularly the youth and coming generations.

“This is our legacy to them,” he said.