It took decades of struggle to obtain reparations, but a Maori tribe finally won a long-awaited apology and millions of dollars in reparations for the atrocities committed by the crown, including its “indiscriminate” killings and alienation ” mass” of tribal lands.
A charter train weaved its way along the spine of New Zealand’s North Island on Wednesday, picking up hundreds of Ngāti Maniapoto iwi tribesmen. The iwi traveled for nine hours until they reached Wellington where the next day they joined many other members in the public gallery of parliament to witness the passage of the Claims Settlement Bill Maniapoto.
The gallery broke into waiata (song) and haka (ceremonial dance) when the House voted unanimously to pass the law. In addition to the apology, the Waikato-based iwi, which has nearly 46,000 members, was awarded NZ$177 million in financial compensation – the fifth largest such sum in New Zealand – and the return of 36 culturally significant sites.
Following the event, Dr. Tom Roa, an iwi kaumātua (elder) and scholar, said the settlement marked “a new chapter in the history book” of the iwi and the crown.
“This legislation will see unity with the crown grow,” he told Waatea News, but was quick to add that what happens next “will be really critical for Ngāti Maniapoto.”
The settlement is the culmination of more than 30 years of fighting for redress following the Crown’s breach of its duties to Maori under the Treaty of Waitangi.
New Zealand has processes in place for indigenous peoples to seek redress for atrocities committed during colonization. The settlement system was set up in 1975 to remedy the crown’s breaches of the country’s founding document between the British crown and Maori, the Treaty of Waitangi.
Elsewhere in the world, many indigenous populations are in the midst of renewed pressure for colonizers to pay reparations for past wrongs, including in Jamaica, the United States and other parts of the Caribbean.
By 1840, Ngāti Maniapoto was a strong independent iwi with expanding trading connections among the growing Pākehā (European New Zealand) population. But in the decades that followed, their tribal structures were eroded as the crown confiscated land, grossly underpaid the iwi for purchased land, and deprived the iwi of their tūrangawaewae (foundation) through compulsory acquisitions for public works. .
The crown has admitted indiscriminately killing women and children during the Waikato Wars and wantonly looting and destroying iwi property. He said the iwi have for too long suffered from “inadequate health care, housing and education, as well as reduced employment opportunities”.
Many ministers and MPs, including those who whakapapa (have genealogical ties) to Ngāti Maniapoto, were visibly moved when the bill became law. Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta, who once led the negotiations for the iwi, shed tears as she delivered her speech.
“This moment, as I have acknowledged many times before, took a long and turbulent road,” she said.
Mahuta acknowledged those who had gone to parliament to witness the statements of the crown, “so that in five years, when we do the health check of the colony, everyone will know whether or not they have delivered what we expected it to deliver”. .
“I have high hopes,” she said.
The minister said she stood proudly on the legacy left by previous generations of her iwi and promised not to waver ‘because this legacy is for our children, their children and those children we don’t even know again, and they will be proudly Maniapoto”.