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August 4, 2008 | by  | in Opinion |
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Ngai Tauira

End-Dates, the Wai 262 Claim and Mātauranga Māori

The Labour Government has instituted an end-date for lodging historical Treaty of Waitangi Claims. That date is September 1st this year, 2008. After that date no more historical claims will be accepted by the Government or the Waitangi Tribunal. All grievances for which historical proof or reference is needed must be ‘on the table’ and submitted before September. This is so the Labour Government can meet its targeted end-date to settle all historic Treaty of Waitangi claims by 2018.

The Wai 262 claim, entitled: Mātauranga Māori and Taonga – The Nature and Extent of Treaty Rights held by Iwi and Hapu in Indigenous Flora and Fauna, Cultural Heritage Objects, and Valued Traditional Knowledge was lodged by six iwi in 1991. Te Rarawa, Ngati Kuri, Ngati Koata, Ngati Porou, Ngati Kahungunu, and Ngati Wai. It is one of the few Waitangi claims that is not about land confiscations. It is about knowledge. It charges that the Crown failed to protect Mātauranga Māori and Tāonga as it agreed in the Te Reo Māori version of the Treaty of Waitangi. The internationally-recognised legal construct of contra preferendum states that in bi-lingual contract and treaty documents, the indigenous language text is the legally-binding version.

Inviting the Crown to consider Mātauranga Māori as Tāonga, the claimants believe that the Crown failed to protect the flora and fauna, cultural heritage objects, and the valued traditional knowledge of the Māori people. The intellectual property of the Māori people is viewed as being under threat of commercial theft by re-discoveries by western scientists of long-known traditional knowledge. As Mātauranga Māori is difficult to protect in current intellectual property law, an effort should have been made by the Crown to supercede IP law to protect the knowledge held by Māori.

The Waitangi Tribunal is due to present its final report on Wai 262 to the Crown in 2009. If successful in this process, Wai 262 could impose a new determination, by the Waitangi Tribunal on the Crown, to retrogressively atone for their neglect and lack of protection of Mātauranga Māori in the past. This is a problem for the Crown, as it will be a problem for many New Zealanders. It could be a main reason for the Crown to issue its final end-date for the lodgement of claims. This decision will cut off any further claims that could be lodged as a result of any success of Wai 262 a year later in 2009; thus avoiding a possible new Māori Pandora’s Box of Treaty settlements.

One wonders if this is intentional. Do any further claims exist that would be bolstered by the success of the Wai 262 claim; a claim that when settled will have taken 18 years to process? If so, do those claims have to be lodged before September 1, 2008? If they do, how do other claimants file their claim(s) if the Final Report on Wai 262 (due out a year later) is central to theirs? Will the Final Report on Wai 262 include an acceptance of further claims made after the end-date of 2008?

The Iwi claimants for Wai 262 have certainly done their work. They may have answered all the above questions already, and covered everything that could be claimed under Mātauranga Māori in the future. All within this one claim. A remarkable achievement. I hope the Wai 262 Claim is successful. The development and protection of traditional and adaptive Māori knowledge, tāonga, and cultural properties could provide a catalyst to create a Pūtaiao Māori Science curriculum.

A Major in Mātauranga Māori Studies would be a great start. Further on, the development and funding for Māori Research Institutes (MRIs): run by Māori for Māori with Māori knowledge, tikanga, and kaupapa alongside modern technologies. These would delve into areas of Mātauranga Māori, and give Māori people the freedom to seek adaptive, scientific, innovative Māori solutions. Historical and contemporary knowledge of navigation, astronomy, waka construction, rongoa flora, musical instruments, land wars, pā building, art history, intellectual property issues, Confiscation Acts, the state of traditional Māori knowledge and adaptability, xenotransplantation and GM issues.

Mātauranga Māori has much to offer the world. There is an opportunity growing with Wai 262 that may create a merging of separate knowledge sets and world-views; if only Western science could accept it. This looks to me to be a worthwhile goal to pursue; and I’ll be doing what I can.

Me tuhituhi tātou i ētahi pānui ki te Waitangi Tribunal.

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