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Documenting historic Māori land law cases for the first time

Documenting historic Māori land law cases for the first time

A new book from Victoria University of Wellington’s Faculty of Law will continue to put the spotlight on Māori Land Law judgments which have never before been published.

Professor Richard Boast’s second volume of The Native Land Court: A Historical Study, Cases and Commentary, due to be published next year, will focus on Māori Land law cases between 1887 and 1909.

The motivation behind the books is a commitment to increasing knowledge and understanding of the Māori Land Court and how it worked in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and to properly document the events and decisions of this period of New Zealand history.

Professor Boast has transcribed historic minute books which contain judgments of the court.

“These judgments have previously only existed as original hand-written manuscripts, so this book will make a lot of early judgments of the Māori Land Court available for the first time.”

“Some of these judgments might be relevant to cases going on in court now–it’s definitely relevant to iwi settlements.”

Professor Boast says his work is advancing knowledge of what the Māori Land Court did historically, and how its processes worked.

“A lot of what is being said about the land court, about the kind of institution it was, has been made without significant evidence.

“How can you understand a court if you don’t know what its decisions are? That’s the key thing for me.”

He describes some of the decisions as “extremely dramatic”, and believes there will be a lot of interest in them from iwi across New Zealand, but especially from the North Island.

“I have to be very careful to include a range of cases. All of these cases are about inter-Māori contests and some are still controversial even now.

“The court might have found one iwi was awarded one block of land but not another, and this is something that’s still bitterly remembered.”

Although most of the cases are about land, there are some about adoptions and wills which Professor Boast says are also interesting and important decisions.


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