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Communtity Law Manual | Māori land | Key terms and definitions

Overview and key terms

Key terms and definitions

Alienation – This is when landowners grant certain rights in their land to another person – for example, by selling or gifting the land, or leasing or mortgaging it.

Beneficial owner/Beneficiary – Te Ture Whenua Māori Act recognises all owners of Māori land under tikanga Māori, including the interests of “beneficial” owners – that is, owners who aren’t registered on the legal title to the land under the general Land Transfer system. By contrast, the registered owners are described as having “legal” ownership, and they are in the position of being trustees for the beneficial owners. With any trust, the trustees are the “legal” owners of the trust property, but have an obligation to manage it in the interests of others – the “beneficiaries” or “beneficial owners” – who if necessary can go to court to enforce the trustees’ obligation towards them. The Act also provides for the Māori Land Court to set up specific types of Māori land trusts – ahu whenua and pūtea trusts, for example. Under the trust order made by the court, the land is vested in (legally owned by) trustees appointed by the court. The trustees own the land on behalf of and for the benefit of the beneficiaries, who hold their individual shares in the land as beneficial owners.

Court order – A document prepared and signed by a court, to give effect to a decision of a judge of the court.

Freehold – Freehold is the most common form of land ownership in Aotearoa New Zealand. It’s the legal term for what most people generally understand as “ownership” of land, and it means ownership with few or no restrictions on it, by contrast with other interests in land such as leases (“leasehold”) and cross-leases. “Freehold” and “fee simple” generally mean the same thing.

General land – Ordinary privately owned freehold land.

General land owned by Māori – Defined in Te Ture Whenua Māori Act as meaning General land that is now beneficially owned either by one Māori person or by a group of people the majority of whom are Māori.

Hapū – A sub-tribe or kin group that is linked by a common ancestor (tipuna/tupuna).

Iwi – The largest traditional Māori kinship group, having a founding ancestor and territorial (tribal) boundaries. An iwi is made up of hapū (kin groups) and whānau (family groups). It is sometimes translated as “tribe”.

Joint tenants – These are co-owners of land who own it equally and who do not have separate ownership interests that they can deal with individually – in contrast with “owners in commons”, or “tenants in common” (see below). Although these terms may refer to “tenants”, they in fact relate to ownership, not to renting or leasing land.

Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) – The government department that authorises and records changes in rights to land. LINZ creates new titles, and records changes of ownership and interests in land.

Life interest – The Māori Land Court can award a life interest in land, usually to a deceased owner’s surviving spouse or civil union partner, which entitles that person (called the “life tenant”) to receive income from the land. It is limited to income (such as rents or interest) and excludes capital (such as purchase money or compensation for land). When the life tenant dies or re-marries, their life interest ends and the interest in the land passes to the next-of-kin of the person from whom the interest came (usually this is the children of the deceased owner and the life tenant).

Māori customary land – This is land that is held by Māori in accordance with tikanga Māori and that was never converted to Māori freehold land by the Land Courts, so that Māori have the same title to it as they had in 1840. There is very little Māori customary land today.

Māori freehold land – Land where Māori customary interests have been converted to freehold title by the Māori Land Court or its predecessors by a freehold order. Almost all Māori land is Māori freehold land.

Māori land – In Te Ture Whenua Māori Act, “Māori land” means either Māori customary land or Māori freehold land.

Māori Land Information System (MLIS) – This is the Māori Land Court’s digitised records system. It holds both current and historical information on: ownership of Māori land blocks; memorial schedules (which list leases and occupation rights); minutes of court hearings; court orders; plans of Māori land; and title notices (such as Gazette notices for Māori reservations, and copies of leases and mortgages). This information is available at public terminals at all Māori Land Court offices.

Māori Land Online (MLOL) – This is an online resource that shows: ownership and block information for Māori land; information about Māori land trusts, reservations and incorporations; and memorial schedule entries (which list leases and occupation rights). Each time the Māori Land Information System is updated, Māori Land Online is automatically updated so that it reflects the current records.

Marae charter – This is an agreement between the marae trustees and the beneficiaries. All marae trustees must have a charter for their marae.

Minor – A person who has not yet reached the age of 20 and has not legally married.

Order declaring trusts – This is the same as a “trust order” (see below).

Owners in common (or “tenants in common”) – These are co-owners who own the land together but have separate land interests, which may not necessarily be equal. This is different from “joint tenants” – that is, co-owners who own the land equally and who do not have separate interests in the land. (Although these terms may refer to “tenants”, they in fact relate to ownership, not to renting or leasing land.)

Pānui – The Pānui is a list of applications currently before the Māori Land Court, including applications that have recently been received and those that are to be heard. The Pānui includes the details for each application (such as the name of the applicant and the case reference number) and the hearing details (such as the venue, date and time). The Pānui is distributed monthly to all people on the Pānui mailing list, to keep all interested parties notified of applications that the court is dealing with.

Preferred classes of alienees – Under Te Ture Whenua Māori Act, alienation of Māori land (that is, selling, gifting, leasing or mortgaging it) favours those in the bloodline, whom the Act refers to as “the preferred classes of alienees”. These people are (except where Māori incorporation shares are alienated):

  • the owner’s children and direct descendants
  • whanaunga (relatives) of the owner who, in accordance with tikanga Māori, are associated with the land
  • other beneficial owners of the land who are members of the hapū associated with the land
  • any trustees of the people referred to above, and
  • the descendants of any former owner who is, or was, a member of the hapū associated with the land.

Proxy – The authority given by an owner of an interest in land to another person to vote on the owner’s behalf.

Quorum – The minimum number of members that must be present at a meeting to make its decisions valid.

Rehearing – When the Māori Land Court hears again a case that it has already decided.

Remainder interest – An interest in land or other property that becomes fully effective only when a life interest that was granted comes to an end. For example, under a father’s will the mother may have a life interest in the property, with their children having the remainder interest. (See also “life interest” above)

Spouse – A legal wife or husband.

Succession – The transfer of a deceased person’s shares in Māori land to the people who are entitled to receive those shares (the “successors”).

Succession order – An order of the Māori Land Court that transfers the land interests of a deceased person to their successors.

Successor – A person who is entitled to receive all or some of a deceased person’s property.

Tikanga Māori – Māori custom.

Tipuna/tupuna – Ancestor (the plural forms are tīpuna/tūpuna).

Title – The legal ownership of property and the legal evidence of a person’s ownership rights.

Trust – Under a trust, one or more people – the “trustees” – are the legal owners of the land or other property that’s placed in the trust, but they have a special obligation to look after this property for the benefit of other people, called the “beneficiaries”. The beneficiaries can legally enforce this obligation. With a Māori land trust, the trustees must manage the land for the benefit of all the owners of the land. A Māori land trust needs to be formally approved and established by an order from the Māori Land Court. (See also “Beneficial owner/Beneficiary” above)

Trust order – An order of the Māori Land Court establishing a Māori land trust and setting out all the terms of the trust, including: the trust’s objectives and purposes; the rights, powers and obligations of the trustees and the restrictions they’re subject to; and the rights of the beneficiaries.

Trustee – A person bound to deal with property on behalf of the owners or beneficiaries and for their benefit. Under a Māori land trust, a trustee becomes the legal owner when the order appointing him or her as trustee for the land is registered against the title. The beneficiaries are called the beneficial owners.

To vest (an interest in someone) – To change an interest in land by giving the person in whom the interest is vested the ownership of that interest and its associated rights.

Vesting order – An order of the Māori Land Court that vests land interests in someone else, therefore affecting the ownership of that land.

Whakapapa – A person’s genealogy, or family tree, linking that person to a particular family and/or ancestor.

Whānau – Family. Whānau is a wider concept than just immediate family of parents and brothers and sisters – it links people of one family to a common tipuna/tupuna (ancestor).

Whāngai – A person adopted informally according to tikanga Māori and brought up as the adopting parent’s own child but without a formal adoption order from any court.

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