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Maori tribes sign major grievance settlement with New Zealand

By Ray Lilley
Wellington, New Zealand (AP) 7-08

Seven Indigenous Maori tribes signed New Zealand’s largest-ever settlement June 25 over grievances arising from 19th century losses of lands, forests and fisheries during European settlement of the country.

The $319 million Treelords agreement will transfer ownership of 435,000 acres of plantation forest and forest rents from the central government to the central North Island tribes.

Hundreds of Maori, some wearing traditional feather cloaks, thronged the nation’s Parliament in Wellington to witness the signing of the agreement. Chants, challenges and conch shell notes rang out during the ceremony; some wiped tears from their eyes during the speeches and signing.

The seven tribes include more than 100,000 people.

“It’s a historic journey we are on,” Prime Minister Helen Clark told the crowd. “We came into politics to address injustice and seek reconciliation. Thank you for walking that road with us on this historic day.”

Treaty Negotiations Minister Michael Cullen said the transfer of the majority of forests held by the government in the region to the seven tribes meant the asset “will finally be utilized in the interests of local Maori.”

“New Zealand is a lesser nation today as a result of the failure to uphold its obligations to so many generations of Maori,” Cullen said. “But all has not been lost.”

He told Parliament the deal settled the tribes’ forest claims but that other grievances would be settled separately and would likely involve further redress payments by the government.

Maori lands and forests were protected by the founding Treaty of Waitangi, signed with European settlers in 1840, but huge tracts of land were taken for settlement. Maori have been engaged in grievance claims since the early 1840s.

Maori paramount chief Dr. Tumu te Heu Heu, chairman of the tribal collective, said their objective was to provide tribes with “a strong, durable and sustainable economic future,” particularly the youth and the coming generations.

“This is our legacy to them,” he said.

The tribes plan to set up joint asset holding and management structures to maximize the benefits from the future use of the lands and the plantation forests – mainly as lumber.

Maori Affairs Minister Parekura Horomia said when the current settlement is completed the central North Island tribal collective would be New Zealand’s largest single land owner in the forestry sector and one of the industry’s largest investors.

The previous largest settlement was the 1992 Sealord deal, which transferred nearly half the nation’s fish stocks to the Maori. The Treaty of Waitangi gave Maori ownership of the fisheries, but that was lost when the government introduced a strict fishing quota system in the 1980s.

Sealord Group Ltd. is now the world’s sixth largest fishing company.

Maori are among the nation’s poorest citizens, with low education and income levels, poor health and housing standards and higher numbers of unemployed. They make up more than half the country’s prison population.