A rebellious New Zealand Maori tribe entered into negotiations with the government yesterday in a bid to gain autonomy over its land.
Ngai Tuhoe is the only Maori tribe that refused to sign the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi, which established peaceful relations between New Zealand’s indigenous groups and white settlers.
Tuhoe still insists it retains sovereign control over its culture and its lands in central North Island, which it claims were confiscated illegally by settlers in the 1800s.
Several hundred members of the tribe, some adorned in traditional feather cloaks, went to the nation’s parliament yesterday to sign an agreement to begin negotiations with the government.
Tuhoe negotiator Tamati Kruger hailed the signing as “a historic event.”
New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen said the government had failed the tribe in many ways over many generations.
“As the result of Crown action your people have at times suffered poverty, famine, and significant isolation,” Cullen told the crowd gathered for the signing.
The tribe had suffered “the loss of much of their lands and considerable loss of life,” he said.
The agreement is seen as a sign that relations between the government and the Tuhoe are finally improving.
Last October, authorities raided several Tuhoe properties, initially alleging they were investigating suspected terrorism activities, but the allegations were dropped after a nationwide outcry about the way the raids were conducted. However, 16 people were charged with firearms offenses and a trial is pending.
In another sign of warming relations, Tuhoe joined six other tribes in June to sign New Zealand’s largest-ever settlement over grievances arising from 19th century loss of lands, forests and fisheries during European settlement of the country.
The Treaty of Waitangi created New Zealand under British sovereignty, and guaranteed that Maori could keep their lands, forests, fisheries and culture. Tuhoe refused to sign, and fought bloody battles with settlers for years.
Meanwhile, Aborigines won traditional ownership rights over a large stretch of coastline in northern Australia on Wednesday, in a landmark ruling lawyers said could set a precedent in other parts of the country.
The ruling by Australia’s highest judicial body means the traditional owners will be able to exclude people from using the foreshore — the intertidal area that lies between the high-tide line and the low-tide line — in the area unless they have permission.
The High Court ruling most directly affects fishermen on beaches and tidal rivers in a 90,000km² area in the Northern Territory that was subject to the claim.
“It is a landmark victory for traditional owners and we have waited for over 30 years for our sea rights to be legally recognized,” said Wali Wunungmurra, the chairman of the Northern Land Council.