Research argues mana whenua deliberately misinterpreted by iwi

In new research published this week, Associate Professor Rāpata Wiri argues the concept of mana whenua is being deliberately misinterpreted by certain large iwi for their own commercial gain whilst disenfranchising smaller but significant iwi in the Central North Island (CNI).

The findings are in the latest issue of AlterNative: An International Journal of Indigenous Peoples, published by Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga.

Associate Professor Wiri discusses the application of mana whenua or Māori custom law in a controversial Treaty of Waitangi settlement known as the Treelords Deal in his paper, “Mana Whenua and the Settlement of Treaty of Waitangi Claims in the Central North Island of New Zealand”. He defines mana whenua as “a set of take whenua or customary land rights of a hapū or iwi which denotes their ownership, control and sovereignty over a defined area of land.”

He details the history and negotiations behind the Treelords Deal in the paper, and says that due to the failure of a tikanga-based resolution process which purports to uphold the mana of integrity of each iwi, this custom has now been replaced with a culture of mistrust and greed among some iwi negotiators.

“Certain iwi have become obsessed with obtaining more land in the CNI forests than their neighbours by citing false evidence and by deliberately misinterpreting the meanings of mana whenua,” he says.

He concludes that Māori need to clearly define and interpret the concept of mana whenua in order to correctly determine which iwi has genuine and legitimate mana whenua within the CNI forest lands, and the extent of each iwi’s mana whenua interests, as stipulated in the 2008 CNI Forests Land Collective Settlement Act.

AlterNative is a peer-reviewed interdisciplinary journal that aims to present indigenous worldviews from native indigenous perspectives. To read more about the latest issue (Volume 9, no. 1), visit

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