Maori Land Court deputy chief judge: Natives must have ‘meaningful role’ in solving land rights issues

Fox (seated third from left) and Pidgeon (seated third from right) in a group photo with the attendees before the start of the seminar. Also seen are Neilson (right) and Arnold (second from left).

By Karen Bong

KUCHING, Jan 15: Solutions to native land rights issues in Sarawak can only be found by working with them and ensuring they have a meaningful role in all decision-making affecting them.

Deputy Chief Judge of the Maori Land Court in New Zealand, Caren Fox, highlighted that natives must be encouraged to participate at the national, regional and district levels in policy development.

“Equally, there is a corresponding duty for governments to respect their rights. As we see from New Zealand, such rights can be accommodated and reconciled with the interests of the state and all people of Borneo.

“That is, after all, the promise of the introduced British common law, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination and other international human rights treaties,” she said.

Fox shared this in a seminar on ‘Managing Indigenous Land Rights in New Zealand’ organised by the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities (FSSH) of University Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) in Kota Samarahan today.

Earlier in the seminar, Fox demonstrated how local solutions, enhanced by international law developments, provided the answer to the global demands of indigenous peoples for recognition of their right to self-determination within the nation-state.

She spoke at length about the relevance of the work of the Maori Land Court and the Waitangi Tribunal as models for enhancing indigenous peoples’ rights.

Apart from the brief review of the history of the Maori Land Court and the Waitangi Tribunal, Fox also shared the relevance of the doctrine of aboriginal rights and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and international treaties to their work.

Touching on the role of Maori Court judges, she emphasised that they recognised that Maori land is a ‘taonga tuku iho’ (treasure handed down from the ancestors), promote the retention and utilisation of the remnants of Maori land in the hands of Maori owners, their ‘whanau’ (family) and ‘hapu’ (subtribe/clan), presiding in a title court and facilitating access to records of ownership, among others.

Fox (right) listening to a question from an attendee of the seminar.

“There are 27,343 individual Maori land blocks under the jurisdiction of the Maori Land Court and 2.9 million ownership interests. There are special governance entities to deal with multiple ownership, namely 5,835 trusts, 2,276 reservation trusts, and 159 incorporations.

“We cover the management of 1,106,625 hectares or 78 per cent of all Maori land. Twenty-two per cent is not under any formal governance structure,” she said.

On the Treaty of Waitangi 1840 between the British Crown and the Maori tribes and subtribes (clans) of New Zealand, Fox shared that it comprised of a Preamble and three short articles, which were translated from English to Maori and it was the Maori text that the 500 Maori chiefs signed.

“The first Article in the English text cedes sovereignty, while the Maori version only grants Kawanatanga (or the right to govern). The second Article in the English text grants protections of villages, estates and other matters of real property, while the Maori text grants the right to retain ‘rangatiratanga’ (full authority or control or self-government depending on context), overall villages, lands, forests, fisheries and all matters that are treasured by the chiefs.

“The final Article grants the rights and privileges of British subjects, while the Maori text assures Maori that they will be treated equally to British subjects,” she added.

Acting High Commissioner New Zealand Gareth Pidgeon as well as Unimas FSSH Dean Associate Professor Dr Neilson Ilan Mersat and Deputy Dean (Postgraduate and Research) Dr Arnold Puyok were present. — DayakDaily