Can there be “primary mana whenua” in respect of resource consent participation under the Auckland Unitary Plan?
Ngāti Maru Trust v Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei Whaia Maia Ltd  NZHC 2768
Author: Setareh Stienstra, Barrister, Public Law Chambers
This decision of the High Court (Whata J) relates to an appeal on declaratory proceedings filed by Ngāti Maru Trust, Te Ākita o Waiohua Waka Taua Inc Soc and Te Patukirikiri Trust.
The proceedings asked the Court to consider jurisdiction of the Environment Court in the determination of primary mana whenua status. The appellants represent tribes with customary interests across Tāmaki Makarau.
The issue arose out of a resource consent obtained by Panuku Development Auckland (Panuku) in respect of Westhaven Marina and mooring infrastructure at Queens Wharf in the coastal marine area (the resource consents).
The respondent, Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei, claimed to hold what the Court referred to as “primary mana whenua” (customary authority) over the land that is subject to the resource consents. Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei appealed the conditions of resource consent. The consent conditions under appeal require Panuku to invite all 19 iwi authorities to establish a forum and prepare a Kaitiaki Engagement Plan, with the assistance of the forum, to “assist Mana Whenua to express tikanga, fulfil their role as kaitiaki, and establish the engagement process before, during, and after the completion of construction activities”.
Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei also applied for declarations that the Environment Court has jurisdiction to determine which iwi holds primary mana whenua, where relevant to the wording of the resource consent conditions, and that “mana whenua” in the Auckland Unitary Plan (the AUP) is neutral and non-determinative as to the issues of primacy of customary authority.
It is important to note that all Mana Whenua tribes participating in the appeals before the High Court are parties to the Tāmaki Makaurau Collective Deed of Settlement between the Crown and Ngā Mana Whenua o Tāmaki Makaurau dated 5 December 2012.
The Environment Court was asked to answer the following question (the Agreed Question) (at ):
Does the Environment Court have jurisdiction to determine whether any tribe holds primary mana whenua over an area the subject of a resource consent application:
(a) generally; or
(b) where relevant to claimed cultural effects of the application and the wording of resource consent conditions.
The Court answered “no” to part (a) of the Agreed Question. The Court declined to answer part (b) of the Agreed Question and instead “reframed” the question (the Reframed Question), namely (at ):
When addressing the s6(e) RMA [Resource Management Act 1991] requirement to recognise and provide for the relationship of Māori and their culture and traditions with their ancestral lands, water, sites, waahi tapu and other taonga, does a consent authority including the Environment Court have jurisdiction to determine the relative strengths of the hapū/iwi relationships in an area affected by a proposal, where relevant to claimed cultural effects of the application and wording of the resource consent conditions.
The Environment Court found that the RMA does not invite decision-makers to identify “primacy” of mana whenua. The Environment Court also found the Agreed Question was misdirected and that the Court’s inquiry should not be into primacy of mana whenua because it does not reflect the potential for there to be many layers of differing interests among many parties. The Environment Court found that the question had to be reframed and answered the reframed question as follows (at ):
[T]he AUP is relatively silent on the mana whenua and related cultural matters referred by the appellant, in the sense as just held that they are non-determinative about overlapping or competing interests. We hold therefore that it is appropriate, indeed necessary, to resort to the provisions of Part 2 that we have listed in this decision. That said, we reiterate that while it is possible to conclude that a decision-maker might be required to consider evidence about multiple interests of multiple parties in any given place, we do not see any clear directive or encouragement in the Act to identify “primacy” in the sense of a general pre-eminence or dominance as argued on behalf of Ngāti Whātua.
The decision provides a thorough review of the statutory context and the role of mana whenua. The decision usefully traverses the legislative and planning context in Auckland, particularly in relation to the AUP, before addressing the specific questions and providing reasons (see – and ).
The High Court held that the Environment Court was entitled to reframe the question as regard to part (b), but that it erred in not inviting submissions on the reframed question. This caused unfairness.
Having heard submissions, the High Court determined that jurisdiction to declare and affirm tikanga–based rights rested with the High Court and the Maori Land Court, not the Environment Court. However, the decision notes that consent authorities (including the Environment Court) may make evidential findings about tikanga–based rights, powers and/or authority insofar as it is relevant to discharge obligations under the RMA to Māori.
The High Court refused to answer part (b) of the Agreed Question. The view expressed in relation to the “primacy” issues (see ) was that:
As the Waitangi Tribunal made clear in The Tāmaki Makaurau Settlement Process Report, the concept of primary mana whenua is highly controversial, and a preliminary question concerning jurisdiction based on it is ill-conceived, or as the Environment Court found, “misdirected”. What that concept means in tikanga Māori or in State law is not settled and so provides an uncertain reference point for a preliminary question about jurisdiction.
His Honour goes on to highlight the difficulty in applying concepts from the British legal model, such as “primacy” and “exclusivity” (see –), concluding that:
The transferability and applicability of Pākehā jural concepts such as “jurisdiction” and “primacy” to “mana whenua” still needs to be worked out at the finer grain, in light of the applicable tikanga Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei and to the extent that there are other iwi [that] are affected, the applicable tikanga of those iwi, before the recalibrated preliminary question can be meaningfully answered.
The obligation expressly set out in the RMA is “among other things, [to] recognise and provide for the relationship of Māori and their culture and traditions with their taonga” (at ). This requires that the decision–maker look at evidence and assess that evidence in accordance with tikanga Māori. There is no blanket way of determining who has “primary” mana whenua.
In light of these findings, the High Court concluded as follows (at , emphasis added):
… I am satisfied that when addressing the s 6(e) RMA requirement to recognise and provide for the relationship of Māori and their culture and traditions with their ancestral lands, water, sites, waahi tapu and other taonga, a consent authority, including the Environment Court, does have jurisdiction to determine the relative strengths of the hapū/iwi relationships in an area affected by a proposal, where relevant to claimed cultural effects of the application and wording of the resource consent conditions. But any assessment of this kind will be predicated on the asserted relationship being clearly grounded in and defined in accordance with tikanga Māori and mātauranga Māori and that any claim based on it is equally clearly directed to the discharge of the statutory obligations to Māori and to a precise resource management outcome.
No doubt applicants, councils and other decision–makers will have to think carefully about the decision–makers obligations under s 6(e) of the RMA and how to meaningfully consult to ensure the obligations are discharged in accordance with tikanga Māori and mātauranga Māori.