Complaint industry still rambles on

Mike Butler takes issue with Ngai Tahu's "perpetual complaining".

A more accurate headline for environmentalist Joseph Dougherty's opinion piece, published on May 28, would be "Government under yoke of Ngai Tahu's perpetual complaining".

Fourteen years after getting a $170 million payout, the South Island's white tribe still has to defend against allegations of invented grievances and undeserved payments.

I live in Hawkes Bay, where Ngai Tahu forebears moved from in the 17th century. I researched Ngai Tahu for a book so am familiar with the Ngai Tahu Report 1991 amd Harry Evison's work which formed a significant part of the report. I have an interest in Ngai Tahu, since as a taxpayer I have indirectly contributed to their wealth.

The first point is that the very few Ngai Tahu (just 1338 kaumatua in 1848) lived in tiny, isolated settlements dotted around the coast of the expansive and mostly uninhabited South Island. These people had been selling land to Europeans since 1800. In five transactions in the 1830s, Ngai Tahu sold 15.5 million acres [6.5 million ha].

After 1840, Ngai Tahu was able to sell all this land again, this time to the colonial Government.

Between July 31, 1844, and June 29, 1864, Ngai Tahu sold most of the South Island and Stewart Island in 10 transactions for a total of 14,750. The Reserve Bank's inflation calculator says that amount in 1862 would be $1,612,869 today. Note also that the land transacted was undeveloped land that required a huge investment in settler capital and labour to grow in value.

The Kemp purchase, that Mr Dougherty focuses on, involved 20 million acres from Otago to Nelson spanning both coasts. Native secretary Henry Tacy Kemp paid 2000 for the land on June 12, 1848.

Mr Dougherty writes that Mr Kemp did not specify the reserves in the deed. Mr Dougherty failed to explain that Mr Kemp did not mark out reserves at the time of the sale, which was in the middle of a South Island winter, as he had been instructed to do, because the rivers were high, and surveying impossible.

Mr Kemp was sacked over the lack of reserves, and, for assuming Ngai Tahu held sufficient rights over that vast land area to be entitled to sell it.

A novice Native Land Purchase Department officer, Walter Mantell, went there in August of that year and made 15 different reserves totalling 6356 acres for 637 people, or about 10 acres per person (man, woman, and child).

The first Ngai Tahu grievance appeared while Mr Mantell and his superior, Lieutenant-governor Edward Eyre, were in Akaroa in 1848, when they were told that Ngai Tuahuriri wished to reserve a large narrow strip of land running right across the island to the west coast from the Waimakariri River on the east coast.

Also, Kaiapoi Ngai Tahu claimed that a large tract was not included in the sale, and demanded that the southern limit of the North Island tribe Ngati Toa's purchase be moved from Kaiapoi to Kaikoura.

An inquiry in 1868 into the Kemp purchase reserves meant a further 4930 acres were granted. This was Ngai Tahu's first settlement.

Mr Dougherty concedes that this settlement was made, along with the South Island Landless Natives Act 1906, which granted 142,463 acres of land to settle 4063 "landless" Maori, the second settlement.

That year, Native Land Court judge Alexander Mackay wrote an observation of a reserve at Otago Heads, noting: "The poverty of the people is entirely attributable to their own indolence and apathy. They have plenty of land of good quality and might live in comparative comfort if they would only exert themselves."

Instead, the tribe leased out its reserves to settler farmers.

The Ngai Tahu Claim Settlement Act 1944, one of a series of settlements by the Peter Fraser-led Labour government, awarded 300,000, payable at a rate of 10,000 a year for 30 years. This was the third settlement.

The Ngai Tahu settlement was debated yet again in 1973, when the payments were scheduled to end.

Mr Dougherty repeats Ngai Tahu propaganda when he claims that tribe members were not consulted until after the settlement was passed. He does not say that in 1973 Southern Maori MP Whetu Tirikatene Sullivan rejected those claims and said there were 109 movers and seconders of formal resolutions at 80 meetings accepting the compensation.

Payments of $20,000 a year in perpetuity were awarded at that time, their fourth settlement.

The $170 million settlement in 1997 was the tribe's fifth.

Ngai Tahu continue to argue that they settled cheap and were hard done by, but in fact their forebears profited hugely from the influx of British settlers and the new land-based economy which gave them money for virtually nothing many times over.

Mr Dougherty alleges deceit by the colonial government, saying Mr Kemp changed wording in the sale deed and admitted deception. He does not mention deceit by Ngai Tahu.

For instance, a French whaler named Captain Langlois thought he bought Banks Peninsula in 1838, but when the colonists arrived they were told that the vendors had no right to sell, so he had to pay for it again.

This became the subject of a land commissioner's court hearing in Akaroa in 1843, where Ngai Tahu representatives denied the 1838 sale and claimed the 1840 sale involved only portions of the harbours there, not the entire peninsula.

In another instance, several Ngai Tahu complained they had received nothing from the first Kemp purchase instalment of 3500 paid to chiefs Taiaroa and Tikao on June 12, 1848, and chief Taiaroa asked Mr Mantell to pay him 340 to make the problem go away.

That same Mr Taiaroa in 1862 claimed that the Kemp transaction purchase price was a down payment and that Ngai Tahu only signed because Mr Kemp threatened to send soldiers to take the land.

His son, H.K. Taiaroa, who became the Southern Maori MP, repeated that down-payment allegation to a parliamentary select committee in 1872 as part of a claim that the 1868 award should not be regarded as final.

All this information is in the Ngai Tahu Report 1991.

History shows that Ngai Tahu found it much more profitable to complain, and Mr Dougherty's defence implies the complaints will continue.

- Mike Butler is a Hawkes Bay journalist.



Add a Comment

Our journalists are your neighbours

We are the South's eyes and ears in crucial council meetings, at court hearings, on the sidelines of sporting events and on the frontline of breaking news.

As our region faces uncharted waters in the wake of a global pandemic, Otago Daily Times continues to bring you local stories that matter.

We employ local journalists and photographers to tell your stories, as other outlets cut local coverage in favour of stories told out of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

You can help us continue to bring you local news you can trust by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter