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Wednesday, January 28, 2015
- Queen Elizabeth 11 signed an historic bill returning confiscated land to New Zealand’s indigenous groups Friday, formalising with the flourish of her pen a past wrong resulting from British colonial rule.
The Tainui people – part of the Maoris, New Zealand indigenous peoples – said they had been waiting for this moment for 132 years.
Waea Murray, a Tainui elder, said though it had taken that long for Tainui grievances to be settled, now his people felt a huge sense of achievement.
“We can’t look backwards. We need to look forwards and with the knitting of both pakeha (white people) and our people this is the beginning of our races merging as one,” he said during a brief ceremony charged with emotion.
The legislation contains a fulsome apology from the government for the invasion and confiscation of Tainui lands last century. Technically and legally it’s not a personal expression of regret from the Queen. But the Queen’s signature on the Bill gives the apology effect, and helps force implementation of the settlement.
Wearing a traditional kiwi feather cloak given to her during a visit in 1954, the Queen signed three copies of the Bill, one of which will be formally presented to the Tainui people.
New Zealand Prime Minister, Jim Bolger, said the apology – and a 170 million US dollar land settlement – signalled the end of one stage in the relationship between the government and the indigenous peoples and the beginning of another. It was the biggest land deal so far. Hundreds of other major claims were still on the table.
“The symbolism is much more than the signing, which is important,” Bolger said. “It signals the end of a long standing grievance and puts forward the chance of a better future.”
However, not everyone was happy with the deal which also gave back to the Tainui people 16,000 hectares of land over a period of five years. Farmers living in the tribal area sold their land to the government for public works on the understanding they would be given the option to buy it back if it wasn’t used.
Legislation had overruled the buy-back option but the government bowed to pressure, offering SNZ 20,000 in compensation. But farmers felt betrayed. They said money could not replace land that had been worked and developed.
Advocate Malcolm Lumsden said farming families had been treated very harshly by the government.
“There’s been a travesty of justice,” he said. “The government has effectively said it can break agreements it has entered into in good faith.”
Formal ties between Maori and the British monarchy have been especially evident during the visit. Yesterday the Queen spoke of the progress made with the Treaty of Waitangi since she last visited New Zealand in 1990.
“You have made substantial progress since then with, even so, much to be done,” she said. “I hope all New Zealanders will consider the size and nature of the task before you, a task which calls for patience, tolerance, perseverance and the will to succeed.”
The Treaty is New Zealand’s founding document promised partnership between Maori and non-Maori but until 1975, New Zealand courts continued to hold that it had no legal status in domestic law.
In 1975, however, parliament passed the Treaty of Waitangi Act, establishing a tribunal to examine compensation claims dating back to the first signing of the Treaty in 1840.
The royal visit has fuelled anger among Maori activists frustrated with delays in settling grievances and impatiently calling for Maori sovereignty.
A protester threw a T-shirt at the Queen during her last visit, and earlier this year a well-known activist turned and bared his buttocks to her representative here, the governor-general. The provocative action ranks high on the list of Maori insults.
Protest has been subdued so far. As the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh made their way to their first official duty Thursday, about 70 Maori chanted “go home”. Ironically, this occurred just as the royal couple were about to meet the acceptable face of Maoridom during a traditional welcome at an arts and craft centre.
The Queen’s visit has also sparked argument of republicanism. The Prime Minister came under fire for making veiled references to a republic in the presence of the Queen. Jim Bolger said during a formal occasion debate will continue over New Zealand’s constitutional framework.
Ardent royalist and leader of a conservative minority party, Graham Lee, said what Bolger did was unnecessary.”Mr. Bolger has no mandate. The majority of New Zealanders don’t want republicanism and no referendum has been conducted.”
Maori university lecturer, Ranginui Walker, agreed the prime minister was premature in hinting at severing ties with the monarchy. He said going republic would force the issue of confronting Maori sovereignty.
“Extremist Maori leaders would have to be invited to the party to talk over a new constitutional arrangement. I’ve never heard it talked about and I don’t know why he’s flying that particular kite,” says Walker.