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Whenua Māori me Te Tiriti o Waitangi: Land occupations and claims under the Treaty

Taking a Treaty claim to the Waitangi Tribunal

What is a Treaty claim?

Claims made to the Waitangi Tribunal are allegations that the Crown (the central government) breached te Tiriti o Waitangi by particular actions or inactions (including laws or policies) causing Māori to be “prejudicially affected” – that is, to suffer some kind of loss or harm or otherwise be negatively affected.

A Treaty claim can be about a specific area of land, but it can also be about a broader issue or government policy that Māori believe is unfair. For example, Māori have submitted claims about confiscated lands, but also about te reo Māori, Māori broadcasting, and fisheries.

Who can make a claim to the Waitangi Tribunal?

Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975, ss 2 (definition of “Māori”), 6, 7

You must have Māori whakapapa if you want to make a claim to the Waitangi Tribunal. Your claim should specify your group, hapū or iwi.

Once you’ve lodged your claim you and your whānau claiming with you become known as the “claimants”.

A group of claimants can be represented by one or more individuals, so long as the group all have Māori whakapapa. If as a group you’ve decided you will be represented by one or more individuals from your group, or by some other representative, it’s a good idea to tell the Tribunal clearly how you came to that decision, as mandate and representation issues commonly arise in Tribunal cases.

Can Māori make claims against private companies?

Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975, s 6

No, you can’t bring a Waitangi Tribunal claim directly against, for example, a large private construction or property development company.

However, you may be able to reframe an issue as being about an action or omission by the Crown, and this may allow you to make a claim under te Tiriti. For example, if the problem is a private oil company doing offshore drilling, you may be able to get the Waitangi Tribunal to investigate the processes through which the company got their drilling permits from the Crown.

Also, claims also cannot be made against private landowners who now own land that the Crown had earlier confiscated. However, once again if you can reframe the issue in a way that uncovers a Tiriti breach by the Crown, then you may be able to make a claim to the Tribunal. This has been the case for many iwi groups bringing claims about confiscated lands, and although privately owned whenua cannot be returned through the settlements process, compensation was made in other forms. Therefore, it’s important to think carefully about how you frame the Treaty grievance.

Can Māori make claims against local councils?

Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975, s 6

No, you can only make claims against the Crown, which means central government. This doesn’t include city, district and regional councils or other local government organisations. Te Tiriti was signed by the Crown, so it is the Crown that must honour Tiriti obligations.

How do I make a claim to the Waitangi Tribunal?

Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975, s 7 Legal Services Act 2011, s 7

You can engage a lawyer that specialises in Treaty issues to submit a claim on your behalf, or you can submit a claim yourself.

Legal Aid is available for claimants to the Tribunal, to pay for the cost of hiring a lawyer.

To start the process of submitting a claim, you can either:

You can send your completed claim to the Tribunal by:

  • emailing it to WT.Registrar@justice.govt.nz, or
  • posting it to: Waitangi Tribunal, DX SX 11237, Wellington, New Zealand, or
  • delivering it in person to the Tribunal at: Level 7, Fujitsu Tower, 141 The Terrace, Wellington, New Zealand

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