When Māori land isn't actually Māori land

Time is running out for Philip Te Whata's family to get their whenua back.

Twenty years ago, their whanau shares were erased from the land title without their knowledge, and today they're fighting the clock and the legal system to return what's rightfully theirs.

Whenuanui 2B has a complex history and conflicting paperwork. Philip's whanau was only notified about their land after an investigation was done by the Māori Freehold Land Registration Project and the discrepancies were found.

According to the Māori Land Court records, the land is Māori freehold land and Philip's whanau still has shares, but the land transfer title says something completely different.

"This is Māori Land and we know that there's been 20 years of dealings on this land without our consent."

Māori land expert David Williams says inconsistent records are very common with Māori Land.

"Unless people were actually positively looking out for their interests, then land disappears into land transfer title. Even though the Māori Land court says it still Māori freehold land it isn't anymore because, well it is, but it doesn't exist anyway."

When Whenuanui 2B was transferred to its current owner Richard Kidd in 1999, the paperwork stated 'all' of the land block was transferred instead of just 'part' of it.

The Register of General Land has admitted to making errors, but that doesn't guarantee that Philip's family will get their land back.

Prof Williams adds the law is on the side of the person with the land title.

"The remedy in law for shoddy administration is just money compensation. If people want their bit of land back then they have to contest the land transfer title, and that's the problem - unless you can prove actual fraud by someone, then that title is essentially sacrosanct."

A letter from the solicitor for the Register General Land says: "Clearly, despite the error in the memorial, Richard Kidd and their solicitors were well aware that only 113/160 of the share had passed to them under transfer."

Philip believes that the Kidd family and the Crown should be held accountable. He just wants their land back.

"Oh look, it's not about the money for us. You know, you can put in whatever figure you know, $10 million, whatever you want. We just want our land return back to us."

Philip and his whanau now have to vote whether to accept the compensation or take the matter to the High Court at a cost of $40,000.

The Hui