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Waitangi Tribunal

Waitangi Tribunal
Te Rōpū Whakamana i te Tiriti
Agency overview
Formed 1975
Headquarters Wellington, New Zealand
Employees 60
Parent department Special Jurisdictions
Parent agency Ministry of Justice
Key document
Website Tribunal website

The Waitangi Tribunal (Māori: Te Rōpū Whakamana i te Tiriti) is a New Zealand permanent commission of inquiry established under the Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975. It is charged with investigating and making recommendations on claims brought by Māori relating to actions or omissions of the Crown, in the period largely since 1840, that breach the promises made in the Treaty of Waitangi.[1] The Tribunal is not a court of Law;[2] therefore, the Tribunal's recommendations and findings are not binding on the Crown. They are sometimes ignored, for instance in the Foreshore and Seabed dispute. The tribunal has made binding rulings on events prior to 1840, such as the invasion of the Chatham Islands by Ngati Mutanga and Ngati Tama in 1835, and the subsequent subjugation of the Moriori people. Abuse included murder, rape, physical and psychological torture and long-term enslavement.[3]

The inquiry process contributes to the resolution of Treaty claims and to the reconciliation of outstanding issues between Māori and Pākehā. In 2014 the Tribunal found that the Maori had never intended to give up their sovereignty when they signed the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840.


  • History 1
    • Notable tribunal inquiries 1.1
      • Taonga and the Wai 26 & 150 claim regarding radio frequencies 1.1.1
      • Ngāi Tahu claim 1.1.2
      • The Wai 262 claim in respect of mātauranga Māori 1.1.3
      • Water and geothermal rights inquiry 1.1.4
      • Te Paparahi o te Raki inquiry 1.1.5
  • Organizational structure and powers 2
    • Investigatory powers 2.1
    • Key points 2.2
    • Tribunal members 2.3
    • The Waitangi Tribunal Unit 2.4
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5


In 1975 protests from indigenous peoples about unresolved Treaty of Waitangi grievances had been increasing for some time, and the Tribunal was set up to provide a legal process for the investigation of those grievances.[4] The Honourable Matiu Rata was Minister of Māori Affairs in the early 1970s and the politician most responsible for the Tribunal's creation.[5]

Originally the Tribunal could investigate grievances only since 1975, but in 1985 a law change meant the Tribunal's jurisdiction was extended back to 1840, the date of the Waitangi Treaty.[6] The subsequent findings of many Treaty breaches by the Crown in various inquiries led to a public backlash against the Tribunal. The Tribunal has often been a political issue in the 1990s and 2000s.[7]

Originally a Tribunal investigation and report was a prerequisite for a Treaty settlement with the New Zealand Government. But in 1999, to speed up settlements, the government changed the process so that claimants could go straight to settlement with the Office of Treaty Settlements without engaging in the Tribunal process. This was an increasingly popular short-cut to settlement in the face of the slow Tribunal process. The deadline for submitting historical claims was 1 September 2008, but contemporary claims can still be filed.[7]

Notable tribunal inquiries

Taonga and the Wai 26 & 150 claim regarding radio frequencies

In June 1986, the Waitangi Tribunal received the Wai 26 claim that the Treaty of Waitangi was breached by the Crown proceeding to introduce legislation related to Māori language before the delivery of the Tribunal's Report on the Te Reo Maori Claim. As a consequence, the Māori people would be denied their claims for radio frequencies and a television channel.[8]

In June 1990 claim Wai 150 was lodged by Sir Graham Latimer on behalf of the New Zealand Māori Council. The claim was in respect of the Rangatiratanga over the allocation of radio frequencies; the claim being that in the absence of an agreement with the Māori, the sale of frequency management licences under the Radiocommunications Act 1989 would be in breach of the Treaty of Waitangi. The Waitangi Tribunal amalgamated the Wai 26 with the Wai 150 claim.[9] The final report of the Tribunal recommended that the Crown suspend the radio frequency tender process and proceed to negotiate with the Iwi.[10]

Ngāi Tahu claim

The Ngāi Tahu Maori Trust Board filed the claim with the Waitangi Tribunal in 1986. The claim covered nine different areas and was heard over two years from 1987. The Tribunal released its three-volume report in 1991 – at that time it was the tribunal's most comprehensive inquiry. It found that that 'the Crown acted unconscionably and in repeated breach of the Treaty of Waitangi' in its land dealings with the tribe, and recommended substantial compensation. Ngāi Tahu also filed a claim in regards to commercial fisheries, in regards to which the Tribunal released its report in 1993. Ngāi Tahu settled with the Crown in 1998, and received $170 million in compensation, an apology, and the return of its sacred mountain Aoraki/Mount Cook (the tribe later gifted this back to the Nation).[11]

The Wai 262 claim in respect of mātauranga Māori

On 2 July 2011 the Tribunal released its long-awaited report into the Wai 262 claim: "Ko Aotearoa Tēnei" (‘This is Aotearoa’ or ‘This is New Zealand’).[12] The Wai 262 claim concerns the ownership of, and rights to, mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) in respect of indigenous flora and fauna. The Wai 262 claim, and the subsequent Ko Aotearoa Tēnei report, is unusual in Tribunal terms because of its wide scope and the contemporary nature of the issues being grappled with. It was the Tribunal's first 'whole-of-government' inquiry, and considers more than 20 government departments and agencies, and makes recommendations as to reforms of "laws, policies or practices relating to health, education, science, intellectual property, indigenous flora and fauna, resource management, conservation, the Māori language, arts and culture, heritage, and the involvement of Māori in the development of New Zealand’s positions on international instruments affecting indigenous rights."[13]

In the cover letter of the report, the Tribunal argues that:

Water and geothermal rights inquiry

The New Zealand Māori Council brought the claim before the Tribunal in early 2012, arguing that the sale of 49 per cent of Mighty River Power, Meridian Energy, and Genesis Energy would prejudice any possible future recognition of Māori rights in water and geothermal resources. On 1 August 2012, the Tribunal released a memorandum finding that the government should temporarily halt its asset sales programme until it had released its interim full report.[14] The pre-publications report was subsequently released on 24 August, and suggested that the government should postpone the asset sales programme until the issue had been resolved with Māori around the country. This finding was reached on the basis that, if the government were to proceed with the partial-privatisation programme, it would reduce its ability to resolve outstanding claims to water and geothermal rights. In terms of potential avenues for resolution, the Tribunal recommended a national hui be called so that all parties to the dispute could voice their positions.

In response to the findings of The Tribunal, the National Government postponed the float of Mighty River Power until early 2013, but rejected calls for a national hui and the "shares plus" idea. Nevertheless, a hui was called for September 2012, but no representatives from the Government or the National Party attended. The issue was taken to court, with the courts ultimately ruling that the partial privatisation programme would not affect the Crown's ability to provide redress to Maori, so the sales could continue.

Te Paparahi o te Raki inquiry

The Tribunal, Te Paparahi o te Raki inquiry (Wai 1040)[16] is in the process of considering the Māori and Crown understandings of He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga / The Declaration of Independence 1835 and Te Tiriti o Waitangi / the Treaty of Waitangi 1840. This aspect of the inquiry raises issues as to the nature of sovereignty and whether the Māori signatories to the Treaty of Waitangi intended to transfer sovereignty.[17]

The first stage of the report was released in November 2014. It found that Māori chiefs never agreed to give up their sovereignty when they signed the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840.[18] Tribunal manager Julie Tangaere said at the report's release to the Ngapuhi claimants:

Organizational structure and powers

Investigatory powers

The Waitangi Tribunal is not a court. Because it was established as a permanent commission of inquiry, its method of investigation differs significantly from that of a court in several important respects:

  • Generally, the Tribunal has authority only to make recommendations. In certain limited situations, the Tribunal does have binding powers, but in most instances, its recommendations do not bind the Crown, the claimants, or any others participating in its inquiries. In contrast, courts can make rulings that bind the parties to whom they relate.
  • The Tribunal's process is more inquisitorial and less adversarial than that followed in the courts. In particular, it can conduct its own research so as to try to find the truth of a matter, whereas courts generally must decide a matter solely on the evidence and legal arguments presented by the participating parties.Generally a historian researcher carries out historical research for the tribunal claimants.
  • The Tribunal's process is flexible - the Tribunal is not required to follow the rules of evidence that generally apply in the courts, and it may adapt its procedures as it thinks fit.For example, it may not allow cross examination and hearsay or oral evidence is routinely accepted.[19] For example, the Tribunal may follow 'te kawa o te marae'. In contrast, the procedure in courts is much less flexible, and there are normally strict rules of evidence to be followed.
  • The Tribunal does not have final authority to decide points of law. That power rests with the courts. However, the Tribunal has exclusive authority to determine the meaning and effect of the Treaty as it is embodied in both the Māori and the English texts.
  • The Tribunal has a limited power to summons witnesses, require the production of documents, and maintain order at its hearings. But it does not have a general power to make orders preventing something from happening or compelling something to happen. Nor can it make a party to Tribunal proceedings pay costs.[4]

Key points

  • The Tribunal does not settle claims; it only makes recommendations to the Government. It is not involved in the settlement process, and claimants agree not to pursue matters through the Tribunal while they are engaged in the negotiation process.[20]
  • Claims are settled by negotiation with the Government. The Office of Treaty Settlements[21] manages the negotiation of Treaty settlements for the Government, and all matters related to negotiations should be addressed to that office.
  • The Tribunal cannot make recommendations over the return of private land. It may inquire into, and report on, claims relating to land that is privately owned, but unless the land is memorialised, the Tribunal may not recommend that it be returned to Māori ownership or that the Crown acquire it. (Memorialised lands are lands owned, or formerly owned, by a State-owned enterprise or a tertiary institution, or former New Zealand Railways lands, that have a memorial (or notation) on their certificate of title advising that the Waitangi Tribunal may recommend that the land be returned to Māori ownership.)
  • The Tribunal can register the claim of any Māori with a grievance against a policy, practice, act, or omission of the Crown. The Tribunal is not required to check that a claimant has a mandate from any group, but it may refuse to inquire into a claim that is considered to be frivolous or vexatious.

The Tribunal process is inquisitorial, not adversarial. It seeks to get to the truth of the matter. The aim is to determine whether a claim is well founded.

Tribunal members

The Tribunal may have a chairperson and up to 20 members at any one time.[22] Members are appointed by the Governor-General on behalf of the Queen on the recommendation of the Minister of Māori Affairs in consultation with the Minister of Justice, for a renewable term of up to three years. For specific inquiries, a panel is composed of three to seven members, at least one of whom must be Māori. The chairperson of the Waitangi Tribunal can also appoint a Māori Land Court judge to act as presiding officer.[23] This panel is then known as the Tribunal for that inquiry, for example the Central North Island Tribunal or the Taranaki Tribunal.

As of September 2012, the membership of the Tribunal was:[24]


Deputy Chairperson

  • Judge Stephanie Milroy of the Māori Land Court.

Ordinary members

  • Dr Robyn Anderson, historian.
  • John Baird, former managing director of several companies.
  • Dr Angela Ballara, historian.
  • Dame Margaret Bazley, former civil servant.
  • Tim Castle, barrister.
  • Dr Aroha Harris, historian.
  • Dr Richard Hill, historian.
  • Hon Sir Douglas Kidd, former politician.
  • Professor Sir Hirini Moko Mead, Māori Studies academic.
  • Joanne Morris, civil servant.
  • Basil Morrison, former local politician and president of Local Government New Zealand.
  • Kihi Ngatai, kaumātua.
  • Dr Ann Parsonson, historian.
  • Dr Grant Phillipson, historian.
  • Professor Sir Tamati Reedy, academic and former civil servant.
  • Tania Simpson, policy advisor.
  • Dr Monty Souter, historian.
  • Professor Pou Temara, Māori Studies academic.
  • Keita Walker, education advisor.
  • Professor Ranginui Walker, Māori Studies academic.
  • Kaa Williams, te reo Māori expert.

The Waitangi Tribunal Unit

The Waitangi Tribunal Unit is a special jurisdiction unit of the Ministry of Justice which provides support and services necessary for the Tribunal to do its work. Approximately 60 full-time staff work at the Tribunal, who are divided into the Research, Corporate and Support Services, Claims and Registrarial, Report Writing, and Editorial Teams.[25]

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ The NZ Legal System. McDowall and Webb. LexisNexis. 2006.
  3. ^ M Belgrave. Maori Claims and Reinvented Myths. Auckland University Press, pp. 190-205, 2005
  4. ^ a b
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ a b
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ a b
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^ Paul Moon (2002) Te Ara Ki Te Tiriti: The Path to the Treaty of Waitangi
  18. ^ a b
  19. ^ NZ Legal System.Structure and Processes.Mc Dowell and Webb. LexisNexis.2006.
  20. ^ Waitangi Tribunal FAQ
  21. ^ Office of Treaty Settlements
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^

External links

  • Waitangi Tribunal (official website)
  • Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975
  • The Waitangi Tribunal story on Te Ara
  • The Treaty of Waitangi Settlement Process story on Te Ara
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