Whānau petitions for government for investigation

By Te Rina Kowhai

An East Coast whānau has started an online petition for an investigation by the government into Te Tumu Paeroa and the Māori Land Court. This comes after a two-year court battle involving the Smith family land near Waikaremoana. But the Māori Trustee says the petition is an attempt to discredit their work.

This petition posted on change.org earlier this week has almost reached its goal of 2,500 signatures.

Cole Smith says, "I want them to be investigated into how they run their business, how they acquired their land that they do have in their profits ecetera and everything like that."

Smith started the petition following the Māori Trustees decision to award a new lease to minority shareholders. The Smiths say they have a 60% shareholding in 790 hectares of land near Waikaremoana.

"It's more personal for me because of what my grandparents have put into that place. Very strong connection to it, very close to my grandparents, and I take it very personally. So that why I am going through these lengths, there is no way we can let this land be taken. And I am going to do everything in my power to get it stopped," says Smith.

In 2014 the Māori Trustee, as Responsible Trustee for Waipaoa 5A2, sought tenders for a new 10-year lease of the land but the family's bid was unsuccessful.

Smith says, "Te Tumu Paeroa and Māori Land Court are trying to evict us from our land, and taking us away from our lands."

In a statement to Te Kāea the Māori Trustee said "the petition by Cole Smith is an attempt to discredit the work we do on behalf of all Māori land owners to protect and enhance their land and assets."

"Obviously with Māori land you know, it's got to go to someone that whakapapa to it, we whakapapa to it, and so on and so forth. We've looked after the land for eighty plus years and there is a lot of things going wrong with Te Tumu Paeroa," says Smith.

On 18 October 2016 the Māori Land Court delivered a reserved decision related to Waipaoa 5A2.

The court noted the following:

- Bruce Smith's (father to Cole Smith) company had failed to submit a competitive bid for the new lease of the block,

- That there was no basis for claims the Māori Trustee acted in bad faith or for an improper motive,

- That the Māori Trustee had not failed to carry out his duties satisfactory, and

- That is important for the Māori Trustee to continue to remain the responsible trustee of this land.

However, the Smith family have filed an appeal with the Māori Appellate court and is scheduled to be heard on 10 May this year. The Māori Appellate Court hears appeals from the Māori Land Court.