Māori tribe secures landmark apology and compensation over colonial atrocities

It took decades of fighting for reparations but a Māori tribe has finally secured a long-awaited apology and millions of dollars in redress for atrocities committed by the crown, including for its “indiscriminate” killings and “massive” alienation of tribal land.

On Wednesday, a charter train wound its way down the spine of New Zealand’s North Island, picking up hundreds of Ngāti Maniapoto iwi (tribe) members. The iwi travelled for nine hours until they reached Wellington where, the next day, they joined many more members in the parliament’s public gallery to witness the Maniapoto claims settlement bill become law.

The gallery erupted into waiata (song) and haka (ceremonial dance) as the House unanimously voted to pass the law. As well as an apology, the Waikato-based iwi of nearly 46,000 members received NZ$177m in financial redress – New Zealand’s fifth-largest sum of its kind – and the return of 36 sites of cultural significance.

Following the event, Dr Tom Roa, an iwi kaumātua (elder) and academic, said the settlement marked “a new chapter in the history book” of the iwi and the crown.

“This legislation will see the growing of oneness with the crown,” he told Waatea News, but hastened to add that what happened next “will be really critical for Ngāti Maniapoto”.

The settlement is the culmination of more than 30 years of fighting for reparations over the crown’s breach of its duties to Māori under the Treaty of Waitangi, and is one of the last large-scale treaty claims to work its way through New Zealand’s system.

New Zealand has established processes where indigenous people can seek reparations for the atrocities committed through colonisation. The settlement system was set up in 1975 to remedy the crown’s breaches of the country’s founding document between the British crown and Māori, the Treaty of Waitangi.

Elsewhere in the world, many indigenous populations are in the midst of a renewed push for colonisers to pay reparations for past wrongs, including in Jamaica, the US and other parts of the Carribean.

In 1840, Ngāti Maniapoto was a strong independent iwi with expanding trade connections among the growing Pākehā (New Zealand European) population. But in the decades following, their tribal structures were eroded as the crown confiscated land, grossly underpaid the iwi for purchased land and deprived the iwi of their tūrangawaewae (foundation) through compulsory acquisitions for public works.

The crown acknowledged it had indiscriminately killed women and children during the Waikato wars and looted and destroyed iwi property for no reason. It said the iwi had suffered for too long from “inadequate healthcare, housing and education, as well as reduced employment opportunities”.

Many ministers and MPs, including those who whakapapa (have genealogical ties) to Ngāti Maniapoto, were visibly moved as the bill became law. The foreign affairs minister, Nanaia Mahuta, who once led the negotiations for the iwi, shed tears as she delivered her speech.

“This moment, as I’ve acknowledged many times before, has taken a long and turbulent path,” she said.

Mahuta acknowledged those who had travelled to parliament to bear witness to the crown’s statements, “so that in five years’ time, when we do the health check on the settlement, everyone will know whether or not it’s delivered what we anticipated it would deliver”.

“I have high hopes,” she said.

The minister said she stood proudly on the legacy left by previous generations of her iwi, and promised not to falter “because that legacy is for our kids, their kids, and those kids that we don’t even know yet, and they will be proudly Maniapoto”.