he Waitangi Tribunal has released its decision to hold a district inquiry into the historical grievances of Whakatōhea this afternoon.

A three-year wait has finally ended for claimants who lodged their claims in the North-Eastern Bay of Plenty Inquiry in 2016. The Waitangi Tribunal held consultation meetings in Opotiki in 2015 by Judge Wainwright which resulted in a Tribunal-led mediation in November 2016. Despite ongoing conflict in Whakatohea, Minister Finlayson, along with Minister Flavell recognised the mandate of the Whakatohea Pre-settlement Trust on 14 December 2016, only one month after mediation ended.

The claimants filed for an urgent inquiry into the Mandate recognised by the Crown in January 2017 which was subsequently granted in July 2017 with hearings being held in November over two weeks.

The Waitangi Tribunal released its 120-page report in April 2018, which found that the Crown’s recognition of the Pre-settlement Trust’s mandate was not fair, reasonable nor made in good faith and that the Crown prioritized its political objective of concluding settlements by mid-2020 over a fair process for Whakatōhea. One of the recommendations of the report was to hold a Whakatōhea wide vote to “test the pulse” of hapu and the iwi and whether they wish to see all negotiations halted so that a Tribunal Inquiry could proceed, or whether they preferred direct negotiations.

100% of all hapu in Whakatōhea voted for a district inquiry according to the voting results released in November 2018 with a huge loss of support as previously noted for the Whakatōhea Pre-settlement Trust from 91.6% down to 56% of those that participated in the vote. (32.5% voter return)

Despite this, Minister Andrew Little released a statement earlier this year saying that despite the narrow margin of support for the Pre-settlement Trust he has asked officials to consider a Tribunal Inquiry process parallel to or subsequent tonegotiations.

This created more confusion in Whakatōhea which resulted in road blocks at Ngai Tamahaua to prevent the Whakatohea Pre-settlement Trust from entering the marae to hold their AGM.

“The 22 March 2019 joint statement of the Hapu and Marae Chairs cancelling the WPSCT booking stands. It is unwise for that group to attempt to proceed with any hui at Opape Marae. We have had no acknowledgement from the WPSCT of our communications. They are unprofessional in the extreme and disingenuous in their claim they want to engage with Hapu,” said Mr Selwyn. “the cynical abuse of our marae cannot be permitted and they should be ashamed of their tactics.”

Ngāti Ira hapu claimants have also been vocal in its communications to the Crown and led a petition in 2017 that was supported by 28 of 31 claimants and 4 out of 6 hapu, which the Crown was cross examined at length on as evidence in the urgent hearing showing a huge decline and lack of support for negotiations under the current regime. However Ms Hata says that the battle may be won by the war is far from over with the Crown.

“Whilst Ngāti Ira claimants are over the moon at yet another hapu win for us, Minister Little is still intent on resuming negotiations with the Whakatōhea Pre- Settlement Trust which is disingenuous in our view. Ngāti Ira hapu will not be ignored by the Crown. It is a claimant’s right to have the Tribunal inquire into our claims before we move to negotiations and when we do, we will speak for ourselves” says Te Ringahuia Hata, co claimant for Ngāti Ira hapu.

“We are grateful to the Waitangi Tribunal as this has been a long wait for many of us in Whakatohea who have since passed on. We look forward to a rigorously well researched Tribunal report for Ngāti Ira against the Crown for war and raupatu. The Battle of Te Tarata and the confiscation of all of my hapu and iwi lands and resources need to be researched, heard and only then healing can begin in my iwi” says Ms Hata. “Our history and people who suffered the most will be no longer be ignored. It’s about mana not money.”