by Peter de Graaf | 13th June 2011 of the Northern Advocate
The Waitangi Tribunal is about to release the findings of one of its most significant inquiries to date, with the report due to be handed over to Northland claimants within weeks.
The tribunal’s findings on Maori cultural and intellectual property and indigenous flora and fauna (Wai 262) will be presented at Roma Marae in Ahipara on July 2.
Unlike claims focusing on land, which usually affect only Crown-owned land in specific areas, the Wai 262 claim could have far-reaching effects on the way traditional Maori knowledge and native plants and animals are used commercially.
The claim was lodged in 1991 by Northland iwi Ngati Kuri, Ngati Wai and Te Rarawa, as well as Ngati Porou (East Cape), Ngati Kahungunu (Hawke’s Bay/Wairarapa) and Ngati Koata (Nelson).
In a nutshell, the claimants argued that the Crown breached its Treaty obligations by failing to protect traditional knowledge such as carving, oral history, waiata, te reo and rongoa Maori (medicine), and usurped Maoridom’s role of kaitiakitanga (guardianship) when developing laws and policies.
The Crown also failed to protect and prevent misappropriation of cultural taonga, such as the artefacts and mokomokai (preserved heads) which ended up in overseas collections, and allowed third parties intellectual property rights for creations based on Maori knowledge or practices.
The claimants argued the current system for protecting intellectual property was unsuitable for many Maori creations because it required that an individual or a company be identified as the creator, not a group.
They also had concerns about “bio-prospecting” and future biotechnological use of genes from native plants and animals.
Part of the report, the chapter on te reo Maori, was released early in October last year so it could be included in a Government review of Maori language strategy.
The tribunal found te reo was in fact “approaching a crisis point”.
It pointed to a drop in the number of young speakers, older speakers dying out, and the proportion of Maori children attending kohanga reo dropping from a peak of just under half in the early 1990s to about a quarter today.
The judges said the powers of the Maori Language Commission should be beefed up and public bodies in areas with high numbers of Maori, such as Northland, should work with iwi to come up with Maori language plans.
Wai 262 claimants’ evidence was heard from 1998-2001 and again in 2006.
The Crown gave evidence in 2006-07 with advice from the Department of Conservation, the Ministry of Economic Development, Te Puni Kokiri and the Ministry for Culture and Heritage.
The powhiri at Roma Marae will start at 11am on July 2.