Pakeha support Maori customary title: Open letter to Helen Clark, Margaret Wilson, and Michael Cullen
Peace Movement Aotearoa,
YWCA Aotearoa-New Zealand
28 July 2003.
Open letter to:
Helen Clark, Prime Minister;
Dear Ms Clark, Dr Cullen and Ms Wilson,
We are profoundly concerned by the Government's response to the Court of Appeal's judgment in respect of Ngati Apa and Others v Attorney-General and Others, issued on 19 June 2003. The matter before the court was an appeal by the eight Iwi at the top of the South Island for their claim to the Marlborough seabed and foreshore (the area between high and low tide marks) to be considered by the Maori Land Court.
The Court of Appeal judges were unanimous in their decision that the claim should be put before the Maori Land Court for consideration; and that Maori customary title to seabed and foreshore has never been legally extinguished.
In response, on 23 June 2003 an announcement was made that the Government would legislate to assert the Crown's ownership of seabed and foreshore, and to extinguish Maori customary title.
We are deeply troubled by this, as it:
a) Breaches due legal process by preempting a future decision of the Maori Land Court;
b) Fosters social disharmony by implying that there is something scary about Maori customary title to seabed and foreshore, and that public access to beaches is now at risk;
c) Misleads by failing to acknowledge that since 1840 it has been private owners, commercial enterprise and government agencies, rather than Iwi and Hapu, who have denied public access to beaches. Tangata Whenua have not excluded others, provided wahi tapu are respected and natural resources are not damaged or depleted;
d) Demonstrates a monocultural view of 'ownership' by suggesting that Maori customary title is somehow the same as private ownership; and
e) Ignores the historical reality that customary title existed long before European settlement and was reaffirmed by the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840; that Maori have never consented to the extinguishment of customary title, and that Tangata Whenua consent would be required before this could happen. For example, the Court of Appeal judgment quoting from a passage approved by the Privy Council: ... "it cannot be too solemnly asserted" that native property over land is entitled to be respected and cannot be extinguished ("at least in times of peace") otherwise than by the consent of the owners." [Ngati Apa and Others v Attorney-General and Others, 19 June 2003:16]
We record our support for the Declaration on the foreshore and seabed that was issued at the Paeroa hui of Iwi and Hapu on 12 July 2003, which reaffirms that the foreshore and seabed have always been under the jurisdiction of Iwi and Hapu as part of the authority of tino rangatiratanga.
We consider any legislation to extinguish customary title to be an extraordinary breach and dishonouring of the Treaty of Waitangi by the Crown.
We therefore strongly urge you to abandon any plan to extinguish customary title.
We appreciate that there are issues around private and foreign ownership of coastal property, public access, and commercial exploitation of foreshore and seabed resources that need to be addressed.
However, we are united in our belief that extinguishing Maori customary title is not the way to go about this.
Edwina Hughes, Coordinator, Peace Movement Aotearoa;
cc (by email): Parekura Horomia, Minister of Maori Affairs; Tariana Turia, Associate Minister of Maori Affairs; John Tamihere, Associate Minister of Maori Affairs; Metiria Turei, Green Party Maori Affairs Spokesperson.
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