Released in 2003, Te Whanganui a Tara me ona Takiwa: Report on the Wellington District is a report on 13 claims relating to the area covered by the New Zealand Company’s 1839 Port Nicholson deed of purchase, as extended in 1844 to the southwest coast. The inquiry area consists of the takiwa (district, or environs) of Te Whanganui a Tara (Wellington Harbour or Port Nicholson), including Wellington city and the Hutt Valley. The report deals with the complex process by which this land was acquired from Māori, and with issues relating to the administration and alienation of Māori reserves in the inquiry area.
The Tribunal originally constituted to hear the claims consisted of Bill Wilson (presiding), Professor Gordon Orr, and Georgina Te Heuheu, with Bishop Manuhuia Bennett joining the Tribunal shortly after the inquiry began, but Mr Wilson and Mrs Te Heuheu subsequently resigned from the Tribunal. As a result of these resignations, Professor Keith Sorrenson and John Clarke were added to the Tribunal, and Professor Orr took over as presiding officer. The claims were heard between 1991 and 1999. Sadly, Bishop Bennett died at the end of 2001, before the report was ready for release.
The Tribunal found that the 1839 deed by which the New Zealand Company purported to have purchased the Port Nicholson block was invalid, conferring no rights on the company or its settlers. However, from 1840, company settlers began arriving at Port Nicholson, and quickly came into conflict with local Māori, who discovered that land which they occupied and cultivated had been sold to settlers. Despite an investigation by a Crown-appointed land claims commissioner, which revealed many of the deficiencies in the company’s supposed purchase, the Crown agreed to a process whereby Māori would release their interests in 67,000 acres of land to the company in exchange for £1500 ‘compensation’. The Tribunal found that this process was deeply flawed, and was carried out without the informed consent of Maori .
Furthermore, in 1848 a Crown grant was issued to the company covering not just the 67,000 acres but the whole of the Port Nicholson block, said to contain around 209,000 acres. Māori retained only some 20,000 acres of reserves. This Crown grant deprived Māori of roughly 120,000 acres which they had never sold or consented to give up, and the Tribunal found this to be in breach of their Treaty rights.
Another issue covered in the report is the conflict over Heretaunga (the Hutt Valley). In the early 1840s, parts of Heretaunga were occupied by Ngāti Rangatahi and Ngāti Tama, who had close ties with Ngāti Toa of the Porirua area. Crown officials did not recognise the rights of Ngāti Rangatahi and Ngāti Tama in Heretaunga, where they were living on land claimed by the New Zealand Company and its settlers. Both groups were pressured into leaving the valley by Governor Grey in 1846, Ngāti Rangatahi leaving only under threat of attack by Crown forces. The Tribunal found that the Crown failed to recognise or protect the interests of Ngāti Rangatahi and Ngāti Tama, who were required to surrender their land without their free consent, and who received either inadequate compensation or, in Ngāti Rangatahi’s case, no compensation. In addition, the Tribunal found that the Crown failed adequately to recognise Ngāti Toa’s interests in the Port Nicholson block.
The report also deals with Māori reserves in Wellington. Part of the New Zealand Company’s original plan for the settlement of Port Nicholson was that a tenth of the land acquired by the company would be set aside as native reserves, which came to be known as ‘tenths’. The Crown subsequently assumed responsibility for these tenths reserves. Another category of reserves (known as ‘McCleverty reserves’ after the Crown official who set them aside for Māori) was placed under the direct control of Māori owners, and the bulk of the McCleverty reserves were later either sold or taken for public works. The tenths reserves, however, were administered by Government officials on behalf of the Wellington Māori who were the beneficial owners of these reserves. In 1851 and 1853, the Crown appropriated 23 acres of valuable urban tenths land as endowments for hospital, educational, and religious purposes. The Māori beneficial owners did not consent to these appropriations, received little benefit from the endowments, were not compensated until 1877, and even then received only inadequate compensation. The Tribunal found that these appropriations were in breach of Treaty principles.
For most of the twentieth century, the tenths reserves were placed under perpetually-renewable leases for 21-year terms, a system which effectively alienated this land from its Māori beneficial owners in perpetuity. Furthermore, the beneficial owners received below-market rents due to the setting of rents at a fixed percentage of the value of the land at the start of the 21-year term. This meant that rent could rise to reflect increased land values only once every 21 years. The legislation which imposed the perpetual leasing regime, without the consent of the Māori beneficial owners of the reserves, was found by the Tribunal to be in breach of the Treaty.
Other matters discussed in the report include the taking by the Crown of land for the town belt and other public reserves without the consent of, or payment to, Māori; the creation of reserves in Palmerston North for some Wellington Māori, to replace tenths reserves in Wellington which had been sold by the Crown; the taking of Māori reserved land for public works purposes; and issues relating to the management of Wellington harbour, including the reclamation of much of the harbour foreshore.
The Tribunal concluded that serious breaches of the Treaty by the Crown occurred in the Port Nicholson block, and that these Treaty breaches affected Te Atiawa, Ngāti Toa, Ngāti Tama, Ngāti Rangatahi, Taranaki, and Ngāti Ruanui. It recommended that representatives of these groups enter negotiations with the Crown to settle these Treaty grievances.