Moriori: The forgotten tribe one step closer to a multimillion-dollar Treaty of Waitangi settlement

The native people of the Chatham Islands are now one step closer to a multimillion-dollar Treaty of Waitangi settlement after the Government formalised an agreement this week. 

Andrew Little, Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations, announced on Tuesday that a deed of settlement, or a formal agreement, had been signed by the Moriori people and the Crown.  

The settlement includes $18 million compensation and the transfer of land significant to Moriori culture on the Chatham Islands, and co-management arrangements with the Department of Conservation. 

"The redress includes a Crown apology, agreed historical account and cultural and commercial redress for historical breaches of the Treaty," Little said in a statement. 

"Today's deed initialling brings us closer to settling the historical Treaty of Waitangi claims of Moriori...The settlement package represents a great deal of hard work and commitment by Moriori to move forward."

The Moriori people's claims were first recognised by the Crown under Helen Clark's government in 2003. It officially recognised the Hokotehi Moriori Trust to represent claims by the 1732 members at the time. 

John Key's government signed an Agreement in Principle with the Moriori in August 2017, and by August 2019, under Jacinda Ardern's government, the agreement was formalised and is now subject to legislation passing in Parliament. 

The Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations, Andrew Little.
The Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations, Andrew Little. Photo credit: Getty

What happened to the Moriori?

The Moriori people developed an egalitarian society on the Chatham Islands east of Christchurch and are understood to have lived undisturbed for centuries until their first contact with Pākehā in 1791. 

Things went downhill for the Moriori, when Māori settlers arrived in late 1835. It's understood that despite the Moriori's law of peace, conflict eventually broke out and about one-sixth of the tribe's population was wiped out. 

And the situation got worse. Moriori were enslaved by Māori, and in 1842, the islands were annexed by the Crown, becoming the Chatham Islands. It's understood Moriori numbers had dropped to about 160 by 1862. 

The following year, a British official was appointed to set about improving some conditions for Moriori, after a letter was sent to the Crown from the tribe informing them of the slavery and plight. 

In 1870, the Native Land Court heard from Moriori and Māori over their claims to the Chatham Islands. The court recognised the Māori people's conquest, and they were awarded more than 97 percent of the land. 

The Moriori people then fell into further decline. By 1901, the population had dropped from pre-contact of at least 2000 to just 31, out of a total Chatham Islands population at the time of 418 including Māori and Europeans. 

Since the late 1970s, Moriori descendants have been working to rebuild their identity and culture as a distinct people with a unique heritage. 

What is the Crown apologising for?

More than 200 years since the Moriori's first contact with Pākehā, Andrew Little says he hopes the settlement package will "provide groundwork for the cultural, social and economic future of Moriori". 

The settlement is, "a Crown apology to Moriori for its acts and omissions which breached the Crown's obligations under the Treaty of Waitangi and for the damage that those actions caused to Moriori". 

The Crown is acknowledging the damage inflicted to Moriori culture by myths that "still exist today", perpetuated by the 1916 and 1946 editions of The School Journal that taught generations of New Zealand school kids that Moriori were inferior. 

It's also apologising for letting Moriori become "virtually landless", and for the removal of skeletal remains of Moriori from the Chatham Islands for over a hundred years, which the tribe says was a violation of their culture. 

Under the settlement, eight sites will be transferred to the Moriori, while some sites will transfer subject to certain conditions to protect existing third party rights and things like public access and conservation. 

Negotiations are continuing, however, over shared compensation between Moriori and Ngāti Mutunga o Wharekauri, the iwi of the Chatham Islands. This will be a separate piece of legislation. 

Once the settlement legislation has passed, Moriori will not have the right to come back and make further claims about the behaviour of the Crown in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. 


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