The Treaty of Waitangi contains three articles which recognise Māori retaining their mana (authority) and allow the British Crown to govern its own people; protect Māori resources and culture; and require Māori to enjoy equal rights with British citizens.
Despite all this, acts by both the British Crown and successive New Zealand governments have had detrimental effects on Māori. These span the loss of lives to the taking of land through various measures, with Māori becoming culturally and economically bereft within their own lands.
But there is recourse. The New Zealand government established a forum to hear treaty-based grievances, known as the Waitangi Tribunal, in 1975. The current framework for settling historical grievances focuses on the restitution of Article II rights: the taking of resources including land and the absence of protective measures regarding Māori culture. According to the Office of Treaty Settlements, the government entity responsible for negotiating agreements with iwi (tribes), 51 claims were settled between 1990 and 2014; three others dealt specifically with resources rather than being solely iwi-based; and another 35 are at various stages.
Each settlement contains financial and commercial redress, cultural redress and an apology for the offending acts. The process is often criticised for being dependent on the government determining parameters of the settlement framework, and on the basis that settlements don’t necessarily equate to actual losses suffered by the iwi. Despite the iwi Ngai Tahu settling for NZ$170 million, for instance, the actual economic loss the tribe suffered is estimated at NZ$20 billion.
But it’s had positive outcomes too: the creation of an increasingly powerful Māori economy, with iwi such as Tainui and Ngai Tāhu estimated to be worth NZ$1 billion in assets. Both iwi have attributed their success to property investment. Crown apologies are received differently by various iwi. Some believe they aren’t important, while others consider an apology to be a significant part of the process that allows both parties to move forward.