Tribunal releases priority report on Motiti Island

Issues of tribal identity are central to the Waitangi Tribunal’s report Motiti: Report on the Te Moutere o Motiti Inquiry, released today in pre-publication format.

The report addresses a claim that the Crown has breached the Treaty of Waitangi by failing to recognise the tangata whenua of Motiti Island as an independent tribal group that warrants its own Treaty settlement. The claimants alleged that the Crown wrongly assumes the island’s tangata whenua are covered by the Ngāti Awa settlement.

The inquiry focused on a 2015–16 ‘kinship review’ the Crown undertook to assess these claims for settlement purposes, which the claimants alleged reached incorrect findings.

To address the claimants’ allegations against the Crown, the Tribunal had to consider the more fundamental – and contested – question of who the tangata whenua of Motiti are.

On that preliminary issue, the Tribunal found Te Patuwai and Te Whānau a Tauwhao are the tangata whenua, and that Te Patuwai affiliate to Ngāti Awa.

On the central issue of the kinship review, the Tribunal found that the Crown properly informed itself of the identity of Motiti tangata whenua and correctly assessed the claimants’ settlement status (namely, that they are covered by the Ngāti Awa settlement). It therefore made no findings of Treaty breach.

However, the Tribunal also found aspects of the review process were flawed – especially the way in which the Crown initially engaged with the claimants and other groups – and it offered suggestions on how the process could have been improved.

Tribal identity and affiliation are crucial matters in Te Ao Māori, and the Tribunal did not think the Crown’s initial approach to the review was sufficiently culturally appropriate. The Crown did not engage with affected groups at the outset, did not involve them in the process’s initial design, and failed to engage in a tikanga-based process to resolve the questions the review sought to answer, instead making an assessment of them itself.

The Tribunal considered that the Crown should have learned from its experience in dealing with overlapping interests during settlement negotiations – something that has been the subject of many previous Tribunal recommendations.

The Tribunal also found that, despite the process’s flaws, the Crown acted appropriately overall. It took corrective action during the process to make it more inclusive, including prioritising the need for discussion between all groups, and it conducted the review in a largely open and transparent way. As a result, the Crown ultimately met its duty of consultation to all groups.

To assist the Crown to deal with disputes over tribal identity in future, the Tribunal suggested that:

  • In the first instance, the Crown’s role is to support all groups concerned to explore these questions themselves and to try to reach agreement according to tikanga.
  • Tangata whenua should be involved in the design of this process and in the design of any research process initiated to help resolve the dispute. The Crown should consider how it can assist in this work.
  • The Crown should be mindful that its proper role in the research process, in the first instance at least, may be to collate and share relevant information with the parties concerned rather than to undertake analysis of the information with a view to reaching conclusions itself.
  • If discussion between the groups concerned breaks down or yields no agreement, the Crown may make its own assessment of the evidence and comment on whether it considers it conclusive or not, and why. However, where the question of identity is highly contested, the Crown should be very cautious about proceeding. Other independent facilitation or resolution processes may need to be considered.

In response to a request from the Crown about how to engage with the tangata whenua of Motiti, the Tribunal also offered suggestions on how the Crown should engage with Te Patuwai in respect of the island in the future.

The Tribunal suggested that, on all issues, the Crown should first engage with the Te Patuwai Tribal Committee to receive direction on which entities it should talk to – marae, hapū, or iwi – about that issue. The committee would connect the Crown with the relevant marae, hapū, or iwi representatives as appropriate.

The Tribunal heard the claim over five weeks in 2018 in Tauranga and Whakatāne, the closest centres to the unique Bay of Plenty moutere.

The mainly ‘off the grid’ island is notable for its long history of occupation by a mainly Māori population. It is one of a handful of permanently inhabited islands in Aotearoa, and home to about 40 people today.

Motiti falls outside the jurisdiction of any district council and has the Minister of Local Government as its territorial authority.

The island is wholly privately owned, consisting of Māori freehold land and general land, held by various private landowners. There is no public infrastructure on Motiti as landowners do not pay rates. Instead, they provide their own services.

Motiti: Report on the Te Moutere o Motiti Inquiry – Pre-publication Version is now available to download in PDF format:

Motiti: Report on the Te Moutere o Motiti Inquiry – Pre-publication Version [PDF, 3.1Mb](external link)

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