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  • Māori Issues
  • Margaret Mutu (bio)

2003-2004 has been a year of massive upheaval for Māori. In June 2003 the New Zealand government announced its intention to legislate the confiscation of the country's foreshore and seabed from Māori. At the time there was a furious and uncharacteristically united outcry from Māori. The level of anger among Māori against the government on this issue has increased over the past year as the government has refused not only to back down but also to enter into any meaningful consultation or dialogue with those who will be directly affected, the numerous coastal whānau (extended families) and hapü (groupings of extended families), many of whom have had rights to their own particular areas of the coast for many hundreds of years.

Māori have organized their opposition with unprecedented levels of cooperation, while the government has tried desperately to undermine them. Both the policy and the legislation have come under sustained attack as Māori have used every forum, strategy, and mechanism they could identify to try to have it removed. This included mounting the biggest protest march ever seen in the country. They also attacked the male Māori members of the Labour government caucus, including the minister of Māori affairs, labeling them as traitors when they ended up supporting the legislation and ignoring the clear and unequivocal instructions of their constituents. Two Māori women members of government who opposed the legislation drew huge support from Māori. When one of them, Tariana Turia, resigned from Parliament, forcing a by-election, voter turnout was unusually high, even though none of the main political parties offered any candidates. After setting up and then co-leading the new Māori Party, Turia took 92 percent of the vote, [End Page 209] returning triumphantly to Parliament with a new mandate.

But the government has remained resolute and determined to pass its foreshore and seabed legislation well before the 2005 general election, launching attacks on Māori leaders and several judges in an attempt to deflect their criticisms. Opposition parties, except for New Zealand First, opposed the legislation but made it very clear that they were not doing so to support Māori legal entitlements. Only the Green Party supported Māori. And in the midst of the foreshore and seabed turmoil, highlights on the Māori calendar—such as the successful launching of the long-awaited Māori Television Service in March 2004, the nomination of Keisha Castle-Hughes to win an Academy Award for her role in Whale Rider, and the launch of the Māori Party—were all seized on by Māori to assist them in their battle to stop the government's foreshore and seabed legislation.

The government decision to pursue legislation to remove Māori rights to the foreshore and seabed was a knee-jerk reaction to the Court of Appeal's unanimous decision in the Marlborough case (that is, the case of Ngati Apa, Ngati Koata, Ngati Kuia, Ngati Rarua, Ngati Tama, Ngati Toa and Rangitane and Anor v the Attorney-General and OrsCA CA173/01). The decision, issued on 19 June 2003, indicated that the Crown's assertion of its ownership of the country's foreshore and seabed was not correct, and that the Māori Land Court had the jurisdiction to investigate the status of that land and to determine whether it is customary Māori land. The decision upheld domestic law (The Māori Land Act); English common law (which recognizes that when the English colonize another country, indigenous peoples' "customary rights and title" to their lands remain and cannot be extinguished in times of peace without their consent); and international law (with respect to the rights of indigenous peoples). The decision brought huge, albeit very temporary, relief for coastal whānau, hapü, and iwi (tribal groupings) throughout the country. After 134 years of pursuing ownership of the foreshore and seabed through the courts, blockages were now removed and the court could investigate Māori property rights claims, including ownership.

Four days later, in a move that showed flagrant disregard for all constitutional conventions and due process...


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pp. 209-215
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