PDF print version (4.4 MB)

The Ngāi Tahu Claim

Ngāi Tahu and the South Island

Before 1840, Ngāi Tahu held rights over much of Te Wai Pounamu (the South Island). But within decades, the government obtained vast tracts of Ngāi Tahu lands, paying a fraction of their worth and failing to deliver promised benefits of the purchases.

After 150 years of pursuing redress, Ngāi Tahu finally received a settlement package and are putting it to good use.

Enlarge image Matiaha Tiramorehu (?1881

Matiaha Tiramorehu (?1881) was a Ngāi Tahu leader who fought for iwi rights. Watercolour by William Fox, 1849. Hocken Collections, Uare Taoka o Hakena, University of Otago (Ref: neg 778)

Land sales and agreements

Between 1844 and 1864, Ngāi Tahu signed major contracts with the Crown, selling the government more than 34 million acres (14 million hectares) of land for just over 14,750 – a fraction of a penny an acre. Reserves were set aside for the tribe's use – about 37,000 acres – a thousandth of their original lands.

Ngāi Tahu rangatira (chiefs) saw the initial sales contracts as 'mutually beneficial agreements' between equals.

The first protest

By 1849, Ngāi Tahu rangatira had begun to realise that the agreements lacked the mutual benefits they had expected from the Crown. Tribal leader Matiaha Tiramorehu lodged the first protest. He complained that lands which the tribe wished to keep had been included in the area purchased.

Enlarge image Hori Kerei Taiaroa (18441905)

Hori Kerei Taiaroa (18441905), a Ngāi Tahu leader and politician who continued to voice Ngāi Tahu claims in parliament. General Assembly Library Collection, National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington (Ref: F-149-35mm-E)

Enlarge image Walter Baldock Mantell (182095)

Walter Baldock Mantell (182095), a former government land purchase officer, supported Ngāi Tahu complaints against the government. Photograph by William Henshaw Clarke, General Assembly Library Collection, National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington (Ref: 35mm-00129-E)

Enlarge image Drying eels at Wairewa (Lake Forsyth) in 1948

Drying eels at Wairewa (Lake Forsyth) in 1948. Harvesting and preserving food was important in Māori communities. But drainage of lakes such as Te Waihora (Lake Ellesmere) eliminated these lakes as a food supply. Archives New Zealand Te Rua Mahara o te Kawanatanga, Wellington Office (National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, F400047 1/2 AAQT 6401.A6120)

Grounds for a claim

Over the next 150 years, Ngāi Tahu continued to raise the issues of their claim with the government. These included:

  • reserved lands purchased without consent
  • low prices paid
  • unclear land boundaries of the purchased land
  • loss of mahinga kai (places for the customary gathering of food and natural resources)
  • broken government promises to provide schools and hospitals
  • reserves leased to settlers in perpetuity, without the tribe's consent
  • broken promises over the iwi ownership of pounamu (greenstone).
Enlarge image Jenny Shipley, Prime Minister, at Onuku Marae, Banks Peninsula, on 29 November 1998

Jenny Shipley, Prime Minister, at Onuku Marae, Banks Peninsula, on 29 November 1998. As part of the Ngāi Tahu settlement, she reads the formal apology for the suffering and hardship the Crown had caused by not honouring its obligations. Courtesy of The Press

Fighting on

From the early 1870s, a stream of government investigations upheld many of Ngāi Tahu's claims. In 1906, government set aside 142,000 acres (57,000 hectares) in Stewart Island and Southern Fiordland for landless South Island Māori, but it was remote and unsuitable for development.

In 1921, one commission recommended 354,000 of compensation, but in 1944, 10,000 was awarded annually for thirty years, and then extended indefinitely. There was no consultation with the tribe.

Refusing to accept these settlements, Ngāi Tahu lodged a claim with the Waitangi Tribunal in 1986, an action the tribe spent $20 million pursuing. Te Kerēme (The Claim), as Ngāi Tahu called it, involved thirteen Crown purchases of Ngāi Tahu lands.

Enlarge image Ngāi Tahu members in parliament as the Ngāi Tahu settlement legislation passes its last stages

Ngāi Tahu members Kuao Langsbury, Charles Crofts, Tipene O'Regan, and Mark Solomon in parliament as the Ngāi Tahu settlement legislation passes its last stages in 1998. Photograph by Charles Simcox, Dominion Post Collection, National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington (Ref: EP/1998/3025/33)

The Treaty of Waitangi settlement

The Tribunal held a comprehensive inquiry into the claim and reported in 1991 that the Crown had 'acted unconscionably and in repeated breach of the Treaty'. Negotiations started, and in 1998, a settlement provided compensation valued at $170 million. It also confirmed Ngāi Tahu's ownership of pounamu.

Ngāi Tahu were granted certain rights to sites of tribal significance. Some role in managing conservation estate resources within the tribe's boundaries was also provided. Fisheries were settled separately.

Enlarge image The Ngāi Tahu Seafood company

The Ngāi Tahu Seafood company is well positioned for future growth. In 2004 it launched New Zealand's first national seafood retail chain, under the brand Pacific Catch. Its flagship store, shown here, is at Auckland Fish Market. Courtesy of Brendon O'Hagen (photographer) and Ngāi Tahu Holdings Group

The end result

Today, thanks to the many decades of tribal effort, Ngāi Tahu is moving forward. Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu has a management plan for its assets that benefits its people and the wider community. It aims to have a prosperous iwi, identified by its living culture, that gives its members choices to pursue their aspirations.

Tāu rourou, tāku rourou, ka mākona te iwi.
Your contribution, my contribution will bring satisfaction to the people.