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Waitangi Tribunal finds serious Treaty breaches

Waitangi Tribunal finds serious Treaty breaches in report on Te Rohe Pōtae claims

The Crown’s significant breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi caused serious damage to the mana and autonomy of the iwi and hapū of Te Rohe Pōtae (the King Country), the Waitangi Tribunal has found.

The Tribunal today released the first 11 chapters of Te Mana Whatu Ahuru: Report on Te Rohe Pōtae Claims. The report addresses 277 claims concerning Crown actions in Te Rohe Pōtae after the Treaty was signed on 6 February 1840.

The Tribunal reviewed Crown actions in terms of land purchasing in the district, the establishment of the Kīngitanga, its implications for Te Rohe Potae Māori, the impacts of war, and the definition and maintenance of the aukati (Māori zone of authority) in Te Rohe Pōtae which lasted for an unprecedented 20 years.

The central issue addressed in the report concerned negotiations between the leaders of Te Rohe Pōtae – especially Ngāti Maniapoto – and the Crown in the 1880s. The negotiations, and the agreements that resulted, are known by Te Rohe Pōtae Māori as Te Ōhākī Tapu. This term is derived from Te Kī Tapu (the sacred word), a phrase used by Ngāti Maniapoto leaders to describe the conduct they sought from the Crown.

Several rangatira in the inquiry district signed the Treaty. The Tribunal found that they retained their tino rangatiratanga (full chiefly authority) while granting the Crown kāwanatanga (a right to govern and make laws). This right was to be used to control settlers, to protect Māori rights and authority, and for the benefit of both peoples.

In the years after the Treaty, the Crown’s presence in the district was limited to establishing a process for the investigation of a small number of pre-Treaty land transactions, and to itself buying about 150,000 acres of land in the district before 1865. After Crown soldiers invaded Waikato in 1863, Te Rohe Pōtae Māori retained self-government for two decades. Their leaders put in place an aukati to shield their people from further Crown aggression.

In June 1883 Te Rohe Pōtae leaders petitioned Parliament to demand that the Crown use its kāwanatanga to give effect to the Treaty guarantee of tino rangatiratanga. In particular, Te Rohe Pōtae Māori asked the Crown to recognise their right to mana whakahaere, or autonomy and self-determination over their territories.

The Tribunal considered the demand by Te Rohe Pōtae Māori for mana whakahaere set out the terms on which their Treaty relationship with the Crown could be brought into practical effect.

For these reasons, the Tribunal concluded the negotiations of the 1880s were of enormous constitutional and political significance.

But the Tribunal found that the Crown’s representatives in those negotiations acted at times with dishonest and misleading negotiation tactics and promises.

The Tribunal also found the Crown failed to engage as a Treaty partner and did not acknowledge Te Rohe Pōtae tino rangatiratanga. As a result, the opportunity to give proper effect to the Treaty in the district has yet to be fulfilled.

One of the Government’s main aims in the 1880s was to gain agreement to build the North Island Main Trunk Railway. The Tribunal found that the Crown did not adhere to many of the agreements it made with Te Rohe Pōtae Māori concerning the railway.

The Crown also sought to promote settlement in the district by introducing the Native Land Court in 1886 and, from 1890, pursuing an aggressive programme of land purchases. The court individualised land titles against the express wishes of Te Rohe Pōtae Māori. The report found this led to the rapid fragmentation and sale of land and caused serious damage to Māori community structures.

Between 1890 and 1905, more than 640,000 acres – a third of the district – passed out of Māori ownership. The Government used its law-making powers to control sales and keep prices low, while its agents frequently adopted questionable methods and tactics.

The report found the cumulative impact of the Crown’s Treaty breaches in the district has been breakdowns in social and political relationships, land loss, and enormous social, economic and cultural prejudice, the impacts of which continue to this day.

Land and political issues in the twentieth century and claims relating to health, education, and environmental management will be addressed when the Tribunal releases further parts of its report.

Based on the Treaty breaches it has identified so far, the Tribunal recommended the Crown take immediate steps to act, in conjunction with the mandated settlement group or groups, to put in place means to give effect to their rangatiratanga.

How this can be achieved will be for the claimants and Crown to decide, but the Tribunal recommends that, at a minimum, legislation must be enacted that recognises and affirms the rangatiratanga and the rights of autonomy and self-determination of Te Rohe Pōtae Māori.

In the case of Ngāti Maniapoto, or their mandated representatives, the Tribunal recommended that legislation must take into account and give effect to Te Ōhāki Tapu, in a way that imposes an obligation on the Crown and its agencies to give effect to the right to mana whakahaere.

The Waitangi Tribunal’s report is now available to download: https://waitangitribunal.govt.nz/news/


What is Te Rohe Pōtae?

The term ‘Te Rohe Pōtae’ refers to oral traditions associated with the second Māori King, Tāwhiao, who was said to have placed his hat on a map of the district to indicate the territory over which the Kīngitanga held sway. Wahanui Huatare, an influential nineteenth-century Ngāti Maniapoto leader, is also said to have used the hat as a metaphor for the territory.

Where is Te Rohe Pōtae?

The Te Rohe Pōtae inquiry district includes all territories from northern Taranaki to south Waikato that were not confiscated after the wars of the 1860s. It includes the western harbours of Kāwhia, Aotea and Whāingaroa (Raglan) and extends to near Taumarunui.

Who are the claimants?

The claimants are descendants of Māori who lived in the inquiry district in February 1840. Most of the claimants identify as Ngāti Maniapoto, but many other iwi and hapū also took part in the inquiry.

The 1883 petition to Parliament that sought mana whakahaere (self-government) was supported by Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Raukawa, Whanganui, and Ngāti Hikairo iwi.

Why is the report being released in parts?

The Crown is at present negotiating a settlement of the historical claims of Ngāti Maniapoto. The Tribunal is issuing this part of the report in order to assist the parties with their negotiations.

What is the Te Rohe Pōtae district inquiry?

District inquiries are a means of hearing all historical Treaty claims submitted to the Waitangi Tribunal within a specific region. Te Rohe Pōtae is one of the last districts that the Tribunal is still to report on.

The Te Rohe Pōtae Tribunal heard 23 weeks of evidence, including six Ngā Kōrero Tuku Iho hui to hear traditions and oral evidence. Hearings began in March 2010 and ended in February 2015.

The Tribunal panel comprised Judge David Ambler (presiding officer), Sir Hirini Mead, Professor Pou Temara, Mr John Baird, and Dr Aroha Harris. After the death of Judge Ambler in 2017, Deputy Chief Judge Caren Fox was appointed to the role of presiding officer.


1830s Ngāti Maniapoto and Waikato establish a powerful and enduring alliance.

1840 Te Rohe Pōtae rangatira sign the Treaty at Kāwhia and Waikato Heads. They include Taonui Hīkaka, Te Ngohi (father of Rewi Maniapoto), and Wiremu Nera Te Awaitaia of Ngāti Māhanga. Others, including Pōtatau Te Wherowhero (the future Māori King) and Te Heuheu of Ngāti Tūwharetoa, refuse to sign.

The Treaty guarantees that Māori will continue to retain tino rangatiratanga (full authority) over their communities and property. The Crown is granted kāwanatanga (a right to govern and make laws). This right is to be used for the control of settlers, for the protection of Māori, and for the benefit of Māori and settlers alike, including the protection of Māori authority in respect of lands and other taonga.

1840s Missionaries and traders establish themselves, and iwi and hapū in the district successfully develop agricultural and business opportunities.

1850s The government begins to purchase land in the district but with limited success. In many cases purchase agents fail to ensure they have agreement from all owners and this leads to increasing opposition to land sales.

1852 The British government passes the New Zealand Constitution Act, which provides a process by which settlers in New Zealand can obtain representative government. Māori are largely excluded, although section 71 of the Act allows for native districts to be created and governed according to tikanga and rangatiratanga (customary law and authority). But this provision is never used.

1857 Te Rohe Pōtae Māori leaders are central to establishing the Kīngitanga as a way to maintain Māori authority and hold onto land. The Kīngitanga is consistent with the institutional arrangements envisaged by the Treaty. The Crown has the option of recognising the Kīngitanga and incorporating it into the machinery of the state, but it chooses not to.

1860 The Government tries to buy land at Waitara in Taranaki without the consent of all the owners and then sends soldiers to enforce its claimed purchase. Ngāti Maniapoto and other Te Rohe Pōtae groups decide to assist those resisting the purchase. The government decides that the strength of Māori authority, represented by the Kīngitanga, is a threat to its own power and must be destroyed.

1863-64 The Government fuels false rumours of an imminent attack on Auckland by Ngāti Maniapoto. Their leader Rewi Maniapoto is portrayed as a dangerous fanatic. Around 18,000 soldiers invade Waikato in what is claimed to be a pre-emptive attack.

Repeated efforts by Kīngitanga leaders to negotiate a peaceful outcome are rebuffed.

At Rangiaowhia, non-combatants are killed when a whare is deliberately set on fire. At Ōrākau, British and colonial troops massacre Māori as they attempt to escape from a besieged pā. No one is ever held to account for these events.

1865–1867 All of the land occupied by the soldiers in Waikato and Taranaki is confiscated by the Crown. This includes the land of Ngāti Maniapoto and Ngāti Apakura, who are claimants in this inquiry.

1866–1883 In the aftermath of the war, Ngāti Maniapoto host Kīngi Tāwhiao and his people at Tokangamutu (Te Kūiti). Together they assert and enforce the aukati, a border mechanism to protect their lands and authority from further Crown aggression.

During the period of the aukati, Te Rohe Pōtae Māori and the Kīngitanga sought to bring the Treaty of Waitangi into effect in the region through negotiations with the Crown.

1883 Te Rohe Pōtae Māori petition Parliament to demand that the Crown use its kāwanatanga to give effect to the Treaty guarantee of tino rangatiratanga.

In December, they reach agreement with the Crown for a survey of the external boundary of their rohe, which they see as a first step towards recognition of their authority within the boundary.

1885 On the basis of promises by the Crown to give Māori communities greater powers of self-determination, Te Rohe Pōtae Māori consent to the construction of the North Island Main Trunk Railway through their lands.

1886 The Native Land Court sits at Ōtorohanga to investigate and determine title to the Aotea-Rohe Potae block, an area encompassing a large part of the inquiry district. The court awards almost the whole block to the five applicants: Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Whanganui, and Ngāti Hikairo.

Over the next 20 years, the block is subdivided along iwi and hapū boundaries.

1890–1905 The Crown begins an extensive programme of land purchasing in Te Rohe Pōtae. As a result, more than 640,000 acres – a third of the district – pass out of Māori ownership during this relatively short period.

1897 Te Rohe Pōtae Māori petition Parliament asking for the removal of restrictions against selling or leasing to anyone but the Crown and to be permitted to lease or sell their lands to whoever they please.

1903 Construction of the North Island Main Trunk Railway through the inquiry district is completed.


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