Treaty Minister criticises Ngāti Kahu leadership

By Harata Brown

The Minister of Treaty Negotiations has criticised Ngāti Kahu's leadership.  Dr. Chris Finlayson questions whether the Rūnanga-ā-Iwi o Ngāti Kahu has a strong enough mandate to settle their Far North treaty claims.

The man at the helm of Treaty deals isn't changing track.  He wants Ngāti Kahu to settle or consider new leadership to drive them forward.

“They have to look at changing their leadership in my honest view so that a pair of fresh eyes can be brought to these issues,” said Finlayson.   

Rūnanga Chair Margaret Mutu says, “It's not up to Finlayson to decide who should lead Ngāti Kahu.  That decision lies with Ngāti Kahu only.”  

Te Rūnanga-ā-iwi o Ngāti Kahu rejected a Crown offer worth $23.4 million, but the Rūnanga maintains it was mandated by hapū unanimously to do so.

"The negotiating group for Ngāti Kahu doesn't last forever and if cracks appear in the mandate then it's my duty to look into those issues," said Finlayson.   

The Rūnanga has fired back with head claimants and marae leaders releasing a joint written statement which included:

"His actions, which include the giving away of Ngāti Kahu's interests in Takahue forest to another iwi, clearly portray a Minister who has no respect for our mana whenua or rangatiratanga." [Zarrah Pineaha, Takahue Marae]

"This Government is delusional if it thinks it can give away our lands under Kaitaia Airport to another iwi and then expect us to accept its offer as full and final." [John Popata, Oturu Marae]

"Ngāti Kahu will never receive a fair offer to settle our claims under the current government and not with the current Minister for Treaty Negotiations who walked away from negotiations with Ngāti Kahu when he didn't get his way." [Timoti Flavell of Karikari Marae, Head Claimant for Ngāti Kahu]

Finlayson says, "Well there is a lot of talk coming out of Ngāti Kahu which some people say I've been causing but it's not true.  There's a lot of talk coming out of Ngāti Kahu that people are getting pretty fed up with the fact that the other Te Hiku iwi have settled and they say why aren’t we settled?”

Such questions have fueled the rise of a new group claiming to represent some hapū who want a deal.

Pereniki Tauhara, a member of Ngā Hapū o Ngāti Kahu Leadership Group says, "My hapū Te Paatu o Te Kauhanga wants to go to a full and final settlement.  There are others there indicating that they want to do the same thing too."

Another member Atihana Johns says, "We need to contest the mandate.  As far as I'm concerned the Rūnanga doesn't deserve the mandate"

But Rūnanga supporters aren't buying it.

"There will always be unscrupulous individuals who are happy to have their hands out to accept the pennies that the Crown offer and there are individuals within our iwi that unfortunately fit that description.  They cannot be controlled and are often the people that the government, this minister and his crony officials will run to when they can't get their way." [Steve Lloyd, Kenana Marae Head Claimant]

“The people, families, and hapū say that those particular people need to come before our iwi at our Ngāti Kahu iwi meetings,” said Mutu.    

The Rūnanga is heading to the Court of Appeal and Waitangi Tribunal.

If successful, Ngāti Kahu could receive land as well as compensation of up to $205 million. But the Office of Treaty Settlements (OTS), says there are clear parameters of what Iwi can receive and that the $205 million dollar figure was from Ngāti Kahu's earlier application to the Waitangi Tribunal which was declined.

OTS noted that the Waitangi Tribunal's 'The Ngati Kahu Remedies Report' stated: "we calculate the maximum approximate value of the remedies potentially available to Ngati Kahu through binding recommendations as between $54.3 million and $56.4 million."