The Supreme Court has found in favour of Wairarapa Māori, who have been fighting for the site of a hydro-electric power station in Waikato.
The land at Pouakani was given to Wairarapa Moana, who affiliate with Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairarapa, in 1916 as compensation when the Crown took the Wairarapa lakes.
But a large swathe of that land was lost when the government occupied the lands without their consent to build the Maraetai hydro-power station, which is now owned by Mercury Energy.
Wairarapa Moana have been fighting for the land to be returned, and in 2020, the Waitangi Tribunal determined the land should be returned despite them not being mana whenua in Waikato.
A High Court ruling last year backed the government’s challenge to that finding.
It had argued that allowing Wairarapa to have the Waikato land would be a breach of tikanga and Te Tiriti o Waitangi, an argument which was backed by mana whenua of the area, Raukawa and Ngāti Tuwharetoa.
But on Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled that decision was wrong, because other relevant tikanga elements were not considered.
The ruling has come at an important time for both the government and the Waitangi Tribunal.
The Tribunal is determining its final recommendations for Wairarapa Moana’s claim for Pouakani.
It also has implications for one of the Tribunal’s only judicial powers, known as resumption, which could compel the Crown to return the land the hydro power station is on.
However, this power has never been exercised.
Meanwhile, the government is hoping to finalise a settlement with Ngāti Kahungunu-ki-Wairarapa which, if passed, could extinguish Wairarapa Moana’s ability to have Pouakani returned.
The wider Kahungunu group who have been negotiating the settlement for many years have said they are happy with the terms, despite it not including the Pouakāni lands.
Story Credit: rnz.co.nz