The High Court has ruled in favour of Archdeacon Timoti Flavell's judicial review application on behalf of Ngāti Kahu iwi, one of five iwi of the Far North requesting to have their binding recommendations claim heard again by the Waitangi Tribunal who declined their request in 2013.
Ngāti Kahu chair Professor Margaret Mutu says, although their claims are a long way away from reaching a treaty settlement, the decision is promising.
The chair of Ngāti Kahu Rūnanga acknowledges that there is a long process ahead of them.
Te Rūnanga a Iwi o Ngāti Kahu Chair, Ahorangi Makere Mutu says, “The families and hapū of Ngāti Kahu know that this is a long process, but for us it is the right process.”
The mandated authority Te Rūnanga-ā-iwi o Ngāti Kahu rejected the Crown's Treaty settlement offer of financial and commercial redress valued at $23.4 million.
Under the State Owned Enterprises Act 1986, the Tribunal has the power to grant binding recommendations to return state owned enterprise properties and Crown forest land to Māori ownership if their claims of Māori land alienation have been upheld.
Te Kani Williams says, “The biggest issue is whether the Tribunal will actually do its job and make binding recommendations as it should do.”
The Wellington High Court has instructed the Waitangi Tribunal to reconsider Ngāti Kahu's binding recommendation decision.
The move could see Crown owned properties such as Rangiputa and Kohumaru Station and Forest returned to Ngāti Kahu at no cost with compensation of up to $250 million.
Williams says, “You don't have to go there as a last resort, so that component of their (Waitangi Tribunal) decision was wrong. The second component was that the Tribunal failed to address the binding recommendations application in terms of the lands that weren't over lapped with other iwi.
Professor Margaret Mutu says, “The tribunal's binding recommendation powers are full and final and cannot be overturned. That is why the Crown doesn't want to see that happen.”
Ngāti Kahu are yet to decide whether to take further tribunal action and have a time-frame of 28 days from the date the high court ruling was made to lodge another binding recommendations application.
In a statement from the office of Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson, a spokesperson says the Crown made a comprehensive offer to Ngāti Kahu in 2013 based on the Tribunal's non-binding recommendations.
That offer exceeds what Ngāti Kahu could get through the Tribunal's binding recommendations. The Crown's offer remains available to Ngāti Kahu.