Claim History

“These are the things which divide the Māoris from the Europeans. They feel that the promises made by the Europeans have not been fulfilled, while all that the Māori have promised has been fulfilled.”
Hori Kerei Taiaroa, MHR speaking in NZ Parliament 21 October 1878

A long time coming… The History of Te Kerēme

“Now in making purchases from the natives I ever represented to them that though money payment might be small, their chief recompense would lie in the kindness of the Government towards them, the erection and maintenance of schools and hospitals for their benefit… Mantell

Ngāi Tahu, our tribe had its first contact with Pākehā (European) sealers and whalers from around 1795. By the 1830s Ngāi Tahu had built up a thriving industry supplying whaling ships with provisions such as pigs, potatoes and wheat. Shore stations were established from 1835 under the authority of local rakatira.

Many Ngāi Tahu women married whalers, and the tribe was no stranger to European ways. When seven high-ranking southern chiefs signed the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, it was seen as a convenient arrangement between equals. By 1849 when the Crown began defaulting on the terms of a series of ten major land purchases dating from 1844, earlier suspicions of the Crown’s good faith by some of the rakatira were confirmed, and the Ngāi Tahu Claim ‘Te Kerēme’ was born.

The Crown undertook to set aside adequate reserves to have been approximately 10% of the 34.5 million acres sold – but this was never done. There were also disputes over boundaries, and the Crown’s failure to establish schools and hospitals, as promised. In addition, the tribe lost its access to its mahinga kai, or food gathering resources, and other sacred places such as urupa. Ngāi Tahu made its first claim against the Crown for breach of contract in 1849.

Matiaha Tiramōrehu petitioned the Crown to have put aside adequate reserves of land for the iwi, as it had agreed to do under the terms of its land purchases from Ngāi Tahu. In the 20 years from 1844, Ngāi Tahu signed formal land sale contracts with the Crown for some 34.5 million acres, approximately 80% of the South Island, Te Waipounamu. The Crown failed to honour its part of those contracts when it did not allocate one-tenth of the land to the iwi, as agreed. It also refused to pay a fair price for the land.

Robbed of the opportunity to participate in the land-based economy alongside the settlers, Ngāi Tahu became an impoverished and virtually landless tribe. Its full claim involved some 3.4 million acres of lost land, one-tenth of the Ngāi Tahu land total sold to the Crown.

When Ngāi Tahu first took its case to the courts, in 1868, the government passed laws to prevent the Courts from hearing or ruling on the case. A Commission of Inquiry a decade later – the Smith-Nairn Commission, had its funding halted by a new Government and went into recess without delivering any findings despite positive progress reports.

In 1887, Royal Commissioner Judge MacKay said only a”substantial endowment” of land secured to Ngāi Tahu ownership would go some of the way to “right so many years of neglect”. A change of Government meant that the Commission’s report was never actioned.

By the time of the findings on the Ngāi Tahu land claim by the Waitangi Tribunal in 1991, at least a dozen different commissions, inquiries, courts and tribunals had repeatedly established the veracity and justice of the Ngāi Tahu claim.

The Waitangi Tribunal itself said after extensive hearings:

“The Tribunal cannot avoid the conclusion that in acquiring from Ngāi Tahu 34.5 million acres, more than half the land mass of New Zealand, for £14,750 pounds, and leaving them with only 35,757 acres, the Crown acted unconscionably and in repeated breach of the Treaty of Waitaingi”.

“As a consequence, Ngāi Tahu has suffered grave injustices over more than 140 years. The tribe is clearly entitled to very substantial redress from the Crown”.

These “grave injustices” based on the “unconscionable theft” by the Crown were the basis of the claim which Ngāi Tahu pursued. As well as stolen land and food sources, fisheries and forests, the claim also relates to hospitals and schools, which Crown agents had promised would be built and provided for iwi in each area when the land purchases were made.

Dozens of breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi provisions are identified in the Tribunal’s three separate reports on Ngāi Tahu claims.

These reports detail clear fraud and theft by the Crown, which deliberately used every available process and loophole to alienate Ngāi Tahu from its land and resources, for minimum payment.

Ngāi Tahu did not suffer openly declared raupatu or confiscations, as happened in the north. However, the Crown’s action in taking land and refusing to meet it’s contract obligation to allocate one-tenth to the iwi, deprived five generations of the tribe of virtually all the land and resources required to survive at anything other than subsistence level. By the early 1900s, fewer than 2,000 Ngāi Tahu remained alive in their own land.

In 1986, Rakihia Tau filed the Ngāi Tahu claims with the Waitangi Tribunal. Negotiations between the Crown and Ngāi Tahu on the claims began in 1991, after the release of the tribunal’s Ngāi Tahu Land Claims report.

The assets available for use in any settlement were recognised as Crown-owned assets within the Ngāi Tahu tribal boundaries in the South Island. Ngāi Tahu has consistently said no private land or homes should be included in the negotiations.

The negotiations which began in 1991 were suspended unilaterally by the Crown in 1994. Ngāi Tahu then sought and won court orders against the Crown, securing orders to prevent the sale of Crown-owned land and other Crown assets in the South Island. The Court ruled such assets had to be preserved for potential use in any settlement reached between the parties.

Following the intervention of the then Prime Minister, Mr Jim Bolger, negotiations were resumed in 1996. They led to the signing of the non-binding Heads of Agreement on the 5th of October 1996, then the signing of the Deed of Settlement at Kaikōura on the 21st November 1997, and the passage of the Ngāi Tahu Claim Settlement Act on the 29th September 1998.

Extensive details on the Settlement process can be found under The Settlement.

Ngāi Tahu received cultural redress in the form of confirmation of the ability for Ngāi Tahu to express its traditional kaitiaki relationship with the environment, tribal redress, an apology from the Crown, acknowledgement of the role of our taonga Aoraki and economic redress in the form of a payment of $170 million plus the ability to purchase property from the Crown.

This financial acknowledgement has allowed the tribe to establish itself as an economic powerhouse within the South Island. Today, Ngāi Tahu has interests in fishing, tourism, property as well as a diversified equities portfolio, all of which are managed through Ngāi Tahu Holdings Ltd.

This financial security enables the tribe to deliver social benefits back to iwi members through The Office of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu.

To enroll as a beneficiary of Ngāi Tahu iwi members must be able to whakapapa – or trace ancestry back to the official census list of all Ngāi Tahu living in 1848 – the so-called ‘Blue Book.’ This valuable resource has enabled many people to verify their roots, and has provided a model for other tribes. Today Ngāi Tahu can be found living in every corner of the globe although the majority of Ngāi Tahu choose to live in New Zealand.