(AFP) – Jun 25, 2008
WELLINGTON (AFP) — The New Zealand government signed its biggest ever settlement of indigenous Maori grievances Wednesday, agreeing to hand over nearly 420 million dollars (318 million US) in forestry assets to seven tribes.
A collective representing about 100,000 Maori in seven iwi, or tribes, in the central North Island signed the deal under which they will receive 176,000 hectares of commercial forestry land worth more than 195 million dollars.
They will also receive 223 million dollars in accumulated rents as well as yearly rental payments of about 13 million dollars.
Around seven hundred Maori gathered at parliament in Wellington to witness the signing of the unprecedented settlement.
"The collective iwi will become the largest private forest land owners in New Zealand and the largest land owner in our region," collective spokesman Tamati Kruger said.
"We will become major investors in the forestry sector and the land to be returned is culturally significant to us all."
The deal is part of a process of settling Maori grievances over their loss of land and other natural resources after sovereignty of the country was signed over by many Maori chiefs to Britain in the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840.
In return, Maori were promised they would keep control of their land and resources.
Maori claim much of their land was taken in unfair sales and confiscations after British settlers started arriving in large numbers in the mid-19th century.
Treaty Negotiations Minister Michael Cullen said New Zealand was a lesser nation because of past injustices suffered by the Maori.
"It is a tragedy of our history that in the century and a half that followed the signing of the treaty, the Crown failed to uphold its part of the bargain in so many ways," Cullen said at the signing ceremony.
"But all has not been lost," he added.
"Through the treaty claims and settlement process, we have in recent decades sought to address our historic failure and strive once again to live up to the ideals of the treaty."
Since the mid-1980s, the government has been negotiating with Maori to settle historic grievances.
The three largest previous settlements -- worth about 170 million dollars each -- were signed with Maori tribes in the 1990s.
The government has set a target of 2020 for finalising deals on remaining claims by Maori, who make up about 15 percent of New Zealand's 4.2 million population.
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