Eastern Bay of Plenty iwi 'fully divided' on Treaty settlement negotiations

Treaty Negotiations Minister Andrew Little has received requests to stop the negotiations.
Treaty Negotiations Minister Andrew Little has received requests to stop the negotiations. Photo credit: Getty Images

Te Aniwa Hurihanganui for RNZ

Treaty Negotiations Minister Andrew Little has received formal requests by at least three hapū to stop negotiating the Whakatōhea Treaty settlement with its pre-settlement trust.

The trust won a majority vote to represent the Eastern Bay of Plenty iwi in talks with the Crown, but letters released to RNZ reveal it continues to face widespread opposition.

Over the past two years, the minister has received multiple formal complaints by at least six different claimants, including representatives of hapū, about flaws in the voting process and confusion around the questions in the vote.

Almost all of the complaints received by the minister from March 2018 to March 2020 stated the claimants did not support the mandate of the Whakatōhea Pre-Settlement Trust.

"The claimants are very clear that they do not support the WPSCT, they want the current Tiriti negotiations stopped ... they are opposed to having their claim settled by an entity which they do not support," one complaint said.

"I request that you immediately take whatever steps are necessary to halt the current voting process for the Whakatōhea mandate, as to continue will inevitably lead to proceedings in the High Court", said another.

Meanwhile, the trust is determined to get the $100 million settlement across the line.

Its chief negotiator Maui Hudson said it would literally lift his people out of unemployment.

"Having a $100m settlement drop into your community means that all of a sudden there's a whole lot of other resources you can put towards the essentials," he said.

"We may be in a position to support the development of businesses or set some money aside to support whānau to develop activities on the Opape Native Reserve and the Tiwarau Blocks. When we get our people into jobs, that is a whānau that now has the resources to support their wellbeing."

But the trust continues to face opposition, as it has for the past four years.

Thirteen claimants, either representing themselves, their whānau or their hapū, appeared before the Waitangi Tribunal in 2017 to oppose the mandate.

The tribunal later found the claimants had reasonable grounds to feel as though they had not been given a fair hearing, and that the Crown acted in bad faith when it recognised the mandate of the trust.

'We've just been ignored'

Ngāti Ira claimant Amber Rakuraku-Rosiuer said her position had not changed.

"In order for any of our claimants and whānau to be able to withdraw under the current settlement negotiations, we don't actually have the means to do that."

"Regardless of how many times we've approached the Crown in a number of different ways, we've just been ignored."

In a statement, Little said he was satisfied with his decision to continue negotiating with the trust, given the iwi-wide vote found it still had support: 1534 votes to 1192.

But Mokomoko whānau claimant Karen Mokomoko said the persisting divide within the iwi was undeniable.

"We are fully, fully divided, and you can see that really clearly at different hapū hui," she said.

"There was so much debacle around the tribal database, getting unregistered people special votes and actually they weren't allowed through, so there were heaps of issues around all of that stuff."

Hudson said the opposition was a distraction and one that could prevent everyone from reeking the benefits of the settlement, including education opportunities.

But Rakuraku-Rosiuer said no one was denying a settlement was needed, but the process needed to be undertaken in the right way.

"We do need to settle, but at what cost? If we sell out our mana we've got nothing else left," she said.

"Everything has been taken. That's the one thing we have left."

An urgent application has been filed to the Waitangi Tribunal to investigate the Crown's rationale for resuming negotiations with the trust.

The tribunal is yet to decide whether it will accept it.