Sunday Star-Times

Govt walks a tightrope over iwi

This year, politician­s’ relationsh­ips with Maori will be laid bare.

- Stacey Kirk

When a new iwi settles, the purses of Ngai Tahu and and Tainui get a top up. Quietly the Government has slipped another respective $180m and $190m across the table, which is the latest redress and more than their original $170m settlement­s.

Fair enough. It’s down to a wellnegoti­ated clause in their treaty settlement­s, and they’re contractua­lly entitled to it.

They took the risk at being the first to negotiate their treaty settlement­s, and turned that clear disadvanta­ge into an advantage. Of course ‘‘relativity clauses’’ that allow those two iwi a certain percentage of other iwi settlement­s were not sustainabl­e for later negotiatio­ns.

But they’ve got them and any moves to make changes to them now would not only set race relations back a few decades, it would be hard not to draw parallels between that and the way the Crown historical­ly treated iwi, that brought the settlement process about in the first place.

The Government will have no intention of going down that track, but it’s understand­able there is worry in some quarters over how big the total bill will be.

All mentions of an eventual Ngapuhi settlement are suffixed with a hiss of air through the teeth and the addendum ‘‘that one’s going to be big’’.

And it’s going to end with another payment to the first two.

The Government and New Zealand should wear that redress earnestly, for the many injustices inflicted on Ma¯ori through colonisati­on which many communitie­s are still paying for. Settlement bills have to be paid.

Nearly 14 years ago to the day, former National leader Don Brash delivered his infamous Orewa Speech entitled ‘‘Nationhood’’.

Among many disdainful things he said that day, was ‘‘much of the non-Ma¯ori tolerance for the Treaty settlement process – where people who weren’t around in the 19th century pay compensati­on to the part-descendant­s of those who were – is based on a perception of relative Ma¯ori poverty’’.

And you just know that not a hint of the irony present, when he said that to a sea of white faces and silver hair at the Orewa Rotary Club, would have been apparent to him.

We’ve come a long way since then, but there’s a long way to go. And this Government could face some thorny issues when it comes to dealing with iwi, perhaps of its own making.

As the political year officially kicks off with commemorat­ions at Ratana this week, then Waitangi shortly after, how iwi respond to the Government will reveal the intentions behind recent posturing from senior Ma¯ori ministers.

Shane Jones and Willie Jackson have disregarde­d the mandate of the Iwi Chairs Forum in the leadup to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s meeting with the group at Waitangi in a little over a fortnight.

The former cited the return of Halley’s Comet as the marker of when he would deal with forum, after it threatened High Court action if the Government didn’t address freshwater rights and interests.

It’s a baffling position to adopt when the Government is hopeful to avert court action and seek a solution to what will be the fraught, and potentiall­y at-times racially divisive, issue.

If the Government is wary of a receding public ‘‘good will’’ over ongoing settlement payouts, then approachin­g talks on cross-iwi issues having undermined the forum’s position and mandate seems a questionab­le place to start.

 ?? ROBERT KITCHIN/STUFF ?? NZ First Minister Shane Jones has rejected the mandate of the iwi leaders group.
ROBERT KITCHIN/STUFF NZ First Minister Shane Jones has rejected the mandate of the iwi leaders group.
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