Election 2023: Greens want to 'return stolen land' to Māori, allow tribunal to make recommendations about private land

"Colonial land theft has caused severe disconnection and locked whānau in poverty."
"Colonial land theft has caused severe disconnection and locked whānau in poverty." Photo credit: Getty Images.

The Green Party wants to "return stolen land to tangata whenua" if it's part of the next Government, promising to launch a probe into the extent of dispossession due to treaty breaches and enable recommendations around private land.

"The Aotearoa we know today has been built off of Māori land, much of which was wrongly taken through breaches of Te Tiriti o Waitangi over the last 183 years," said co-leader Marama Davidson.

"Colonial land theft has caused severe disconnection and locked whānau in poverty and this has fed ongoing inequities for Māori within the health, education and justice systems. Returning land to tangata whenua is the right thing to do to begin to address these inequities."

The party's Hoki Whenua Mai policy lays out what it says is a plan to ensure land wrongly taken from Māori is returned. It includes:

  • Establishing a Commission of Inquiry into dispossession and redress will provide evidence of the full extent of dispossession of land due to Treaty breaches.

  • Repealing the claims deadline and removing the ban on historical claims to give effect to Te Tiriti o Waitangi

  • Continuing the work of the Department of Conservation on future governance within a Te Tiriti o Waitangi framework

  • Enabling non-binding recommendations for private land that was wrongfully taken from Māori as that land comes onto the property market

  • Reforming the Public Works Act to prevent the future taking of Māori land.

  • Ending perpetual leases to give full control back to Māori land owners.

  • Costings for Commission of Inquiry and claimant support.

Davidson said the upcoming 185-year anniversary of the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the 50-year anniversary of the Treaty of Waitangi Act means it's time "to reflect on next steps to ensure the promise of Te Tiriti is honoured and wrongs are put right".

"For decades the Green Party has pushed for Te Tiriti justice. With more Māori Green MPs in Government, we can ensure policies like Hoki Whenua Mai are upheld.

"Twenty-seven percent of all children in Aotearoa [are] whakapapa Māori, the time is now to break the intergenerational harm caused by land theft."

The Commission of Inquiry proposed by the Greens would investigate the extent of dispossession of land due to treaty breaches and develop a registry of land wrongfully removed from Māori ownership.

It would also look at the ongoing impacts of land loss, the adequacy of current redress processes and mechanisms that could be used in the future to return land.

"The Inquiry will begin in 2024," a Greens policy document says. "Recognising the scale of the investigation needed, we have allowed for funding of a three-year work programme. In the interim, the Green Party is committed to fixing issues with the current settlement redress processes that are causing clear injustices."

One of the ideas is to remove the 2008 deadline to lodge historical treaty claims, meaning claims relating to matters that happened before September 21, 1992. The Waitangi Tribunal is still considering historical claims.

The tribunal is unable to recommend the return of most privately-held land to Māori. There are some exceptions, such as with regard to memorialised land that may be land previously owned by a state-owned enterprise.

The Greens want to allow recommendations for land taken from Māori when that land comes onto the private market.

"This would be done together with removing the bar on new historical claims. The combined effect of this would enable claims for specific landholdings, with recommendations based around the return of this land. Tribunal recommendations would not be binding. However, these would provide clear direction to inform redress actions.

"How to give effect to recommendations about privately owned land would depend on the characteristics and uses of the land, and the future uses envisaged by the claimants. Next steps following a recommendation could include negotiating with current landowners for purchase, or keeping a record of land for future purchase when it comes up sale."

The party gives the example of a block of land "wrongly removed" from the original Māori landowners and sold at a discounted price to settlers. Their descendants still own the land and operate it as a farm, but are now planning to sell. 

"The descendants of the original Māori landowners become aware that the current owners are planning to sell, and lodge an urgent claim at the Waitangi Tribunal.

"The Tribunal releases a finding that the land was wrongfully acquired, and recommends that the Crown negotiate with the current owners to purchase it and return it to the whānau as redress for their claim."

The Greens have already announced the proposal to end perpetual leases over Māori land. This is land reserved for Māori that the Crown began acquiring in the 1800s.

The Crown said it would administer it for Māori owners and then offered it to settlers under perpetually renewing leases that brought in little rent and gave Māori no control.

The party wants to amend the relevant legislation to abolish the perpetual leases and "restore full rights to the underlying Māori landowners". 

"These amendments will introduce an end date of 2025 for all remaining leases. This will allow a year for the transition, including negotiations between the parties to address specific circumstances for each lease (such as how to deal with buildings or other improvements on the land).

"The transition would also include considering what compensation may be payable by the Crown to the Māori landowners for the loss of the use of the land while it was under lease; and to leaseholders for the statutory removal of their future lease interests."

Greens Māori Development spokesperson Teanau Tuiono said when indigenous people have control over their land, it boosts biodiversity. He also believes the policy will address "the impacts of land loss and colonisation in Aotearoa" and support whānau and papatūānuku to thrive.

"Returning land to tangata whenua is the right thing to do to address the ongoing injustices that Māori experience. Aotearoa can be a place where active kaitiakitanga led by tangata whenua guides our relationship with te taiao, ensuring our tūpuna whenua, awa, and maunga are cared for."

A Waitangi Tribunal report released in December found the Crown's interactions with Māori between 1840 and 1900 breached the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi and caused "severe and lasting prejudice".

Among the recommendations of the inquiry, which focused on northern regions, was for the Crown to return all Crown-owned land in the district to local Māori and provide compensation.

Newshub revealed earlier this year it was a bottom line for Te Pāti Māori in any potential coalition negotiations for the Crown to accept the recommendations.