To Andrew Little: Minister for Treaty Settlements
By local historian, John Robinson
I have worked on gathering information on Treaty issues, as a consultant for the Treaty of Waitangi Unit at the Department of Justice, and with the Victoria University treaty of Waitangi Research Unit in projects for the Crown Forestry Rental Trust.
This was in addition to other research for Massey University and Te Puni Kokiri, which was focussed on data and not Treaty issues.
All effort in those organisations was to find wrongs committed by government, in an adversarial situation – to support lawyers in a court of law, making every effort to put the case for a client, and not as independent scholars. There was no effort to prepare and present a case for the Crown – to protect public property and rights.
Highly selective in accepting information
Any information critical of, or opposed to, the case being made was rejected. Thus I was required to rewrite one report that found that at the end of the nineteenth century, when large proportion of land had been sold, the population of northern South Island Maori had recovered from previous decline.
I had to blur that message, which contradicted the accepted dogma of a “cataclysm” for Te Tau between 1850 and 1900.
On one occasion I appeared before the Waitangi Tribunal. The meeting room was crowded with Maori who had come to support the grievance. Several lawyers attacked my evidence aggressively, which is an uncomfortable situation unfamiliar to a scholar. There was no effort to understand what the facts were telling us. The two young Government lawyers were obviously overawed and kept their heads down.
This became worse under Finlayson. It has been evident that his every sympathy was with the claimants, and some decisions have been absurd.
The unfair settlement over Taputeranga
I have lived in Island Bay and took a particular interest in the Ngati Toa settlement. I mention two issues among many.
Taputeranga, the island of Island Bay, was given to Ngati Toa on the grounds that they attacked and took it in 1827. That savage, murderous attack should be no ground for rewarding their descendents. But in any case, the claim is a lie as Ngati Mutunga carried out the attack.
The settlement included “$10,000,000 in recognition of the Crown’s actions in undermining the maritime domain of Ngati Toa Rangatira in the Cook Strait region in the nineteenth century”. Here $10 million was paid with an apology for asserting law and preventing further bloody raids, bringing peace to the region around Cook Strait.
I celebrate the change of government and the end of Finlayson’s time as Minister for Treaty Settlements.
New government = new approach?
I hope that you have considered significant changes in the formulation of any future settlements. My experience points to two particular important features.
These settlements deal with public goods, property and rights, and should be carried out in public rather than as private negotiations. There will then be significant input from the public who are concerned, and I hope that these will be treated with respect and taken seriously. I saw that carefully prepared submissions concerning the Ngati Toa settlement were never permitted until the Select Committee met, and were then ignored without (in my case) any serious question being asked.
Negotiations should involve a thorough consideration of all information. Your first task as representative for the Crown – the Government and the public – is to gather information supportive of past Government actions. The discussion can then proceed with due recognition of possible differing points of view.
Based on my experiences and observations, I suggest a comprehensive revamp of services provided to your office.
Government agents have been acting in support of claimants against Government interests, in a seriously skewed and one-sided collection and presentation of information.
The opposite is required: a team dedicated to the protection of the public, working firmly to prepare a case in support of Crown actions.
With best wishes,
Dr John Robinson