Chatham Islands iwi signs settlement agreement

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The Chatham Islands
Photo: RNZ / Matthew Theunissen

Aotearoa’s most remote people – Chatham Islands iwi Ngāti Mutunga o Wharekauri – has just entered a new era after one of its iwis reached an ‘agreement in principle’ for a treaty settlement with the Crown.

It marks an important milestone towards the settlement of their historic claims to the Treaty of Waitangi.

The agreement outlines a settlement package including $13 million in redress, the option to transfer culturally significant lands to Ngāti Mutunga o Wharekauri as a cultural redress, and shared redress between the iwi and Moriori.

Much of the $13 million in financial compensation and $3 million in cultural investment was planned to go to a new pa site on the archipelago.

There were also significant historical acknowledgments in the agreement – including that the crown annexed Wharekauri/Chatham Islands without any attempt to consult the iwi, without recognizing and respecting its mana and tino rangatiratanga.

The crown also recognized how indigenous land laws—particularly granting land to individuals rather than iwi or hapū—caused Ngāti Mutunga o Wharekauri prejudice.

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Chief negotiator for the iwi Tom McClurg said the pūtea (money) was welcome, but the formal acknowledgment that the Chatham Islands had been wrongly annexed in 1842 was most important.

Ngāti Mutunga o Wharekauri iwi negotiator Tom McClurg addresses the media at the new museum

Ngāti Mutunga o Wharekauri iwi negotiator Tom McClurg addresses the media at the new museum
Photo: RNZ/Anneke Smith

“In many ways, the treaty relationship never recovered from that bad start. So this is an opportunity to reset the whole relationship between the government and the Ngāti Mututunga people here, and we look forward to a new era.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was in the Chathams today to officially open the island’s new museum in front of dozens of local residents and some of their pets, who came out in the pouring rain.

“This is a really important opportunity to be here, to finally talk directly to the local people who have been advocating for some of the things we’ve been able to make some progress on today,” Ardern said.

Those RNZ spoke to said they were happy Ardern had traveled to the remote islands to celebrate the occasion and believed the building would be a great resource for the community.

One of the museum’s co-chairs, Jocelyn Powell, said the museum holds taonga that once lived in the islanders’ homes, and it was hoped more would be added to the collection over time.

“I think it’s become a real Chatham Island museum now, rather than something that could mirror the mainland.”

The new museum showcases the history and wildlife of the Chatham Islands, but also managed to capture the ingenuity of the local community.

Robert Holmes, a native of the Chathams, built the wooden counter at the museum’s front desk, where visitors can find a selection of local crafts and artwork.

Robert Holmes stands at the museum desk he built

Robert Holmes stands at the museum desk he built
Photo: RNZ/Anneke Smith

He told RNZ he was carrying on the legacy of his late father, who ran the first makeshift museum at the Waitangi Shop in 1971.

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“We thought we were helping him do what he was trying to accomplish with absolutely nothing.”

“The deck is an Australian jarrah that came here in 1933 for the old wharf. I decided it was a waste to just leave it outside so might as well try and use it.

“The front piece is the New Zealand tōtara which has probably been here for 5,000 years, according to geologists. I found it on the beach; pulled it from the sand hills. It’s perfect, but it’s half petrified. It doesn’t burn.”

McClurg said the Ngāti Mutunga treaty settlement was expected to be formally signed next year.

Treaty of Waitangi negotiating minister Andrew Little said the signing was a step towards resolving longstanding historical grievances with the crown.

“While no settlement can truly compensate for the wrongs endured by Ngāti Mutunga o Wharekauri in the past, I sincerely hope that today’s agreement in principle paves the way for reaching a comprehensive settlement and lasting partnership between Ngāti Mutunga o Wharekauri and the Crown,” said Little. said.

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