Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Guest Post: A J Park attends handover of Wai 262 report in Ahipara

Thanks to Lynell Tuffery Huria for this article.

Last Saturday was a clear, beautiful day. It was an appropriate day for the official handover of the Flora and Fauna and Cultural and Intellectual Property Report, more commonly known as WAI 262. I attended the handover at Roma Marae in Ahipara, New Zealand, the home of Haana Murray, the sole surviving claimant.

The report, “Ko Aotearoa Tenei – This is Aotearoa (or This is New Zealand),” has been 20 years in the making. It is a landmark report despite the fact the New Zealand Government is not bound by any of the report’s recommendations. The report is long overdue, not only for the claimants and their legal representatives, but for all Māori. The report is also significant to people overseas who see the claim as synonymous with the plight of indigenous peoples around the world—people who also strive for recognition of their own cultural intellectual property rights.

Over 250 people gathered at Roma Marae, in the small village of Ahipara, population 1100, to witness the official handover of this report. The ceremony included acknowledgements of those who that had been involved with the claim, and in particular, those who had passed on. Their photos were positioned amongst tangata whenua (local Māori) so that their part in this process was not forgotten.

At over 1000 pages, the report itself is rather lengthy. The government has already indicated the report will take some time to digest.

Chapter 5 of the report was released last October, in anticipation of an urgent review of Te Reo Māori (the Māori language), which is considered to be in crisis. But none of the recommendations in that chapter have been adopted.

We eagerly await the government’s review of the full report.

Background - what is WAI 262?

WAI 262 is the 262nd claim before the Waitangi Tribunal. The origins of the claim date back to 1988, when two women found the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR) had deposited several cultivars of native kumara at a research institution in Japan. These kumara had been brought to New Zealand by the Māori people, but were no longer available here. These women travelled to Japan to bring the kumara back to New Zealand.

The women became concerned at the ease with which this native flora and fauna could be lost to overseas interests, and the lack of Māori involvement in the decision making process. The women felt the government and DSIR had ignored Māori rights of tino rangatiratanga (authority) and kaitiakitanga (guardianship) over this particular indigenous flora and fauna.

As work towards filing a claim with the Waitangi Tribunal began, the concerns extended to include the ever increasing loss of native plants and animals, the destruction of ecosystems, the continuing erosion of mātauranga maori (traditional Māori knowledge), and the continuing creation and amendment by the government of intellectual property legislation that failed to recognise Māori intellectual property rights.

The claim was lodged in 1991 by six individuals on behalf of six tribes.

What did the claimant’s seek?

The claim asserted the Crown breached the Treaty of Waitangi, because the Crown:
  • failed to actively protect the exercise of tino rangitiratanga and kaitiakitanga by the claimants over indigenous flora and fauna, and other taonga (“treasure”), and also over mātauranga Māori (Māori traditional knowledge)
  • failed to protect the taonga itself
  • usurped tino rangatiratanga and kaitiakitanga of Māori in respect of flora and fauna and other taonga through the development of policy and enactment of legislation
  • agreed to various international agreements and obligations that affect indigenous flora and fauna and intellectual property rights and rights to other taonga.
The claimants also asked that one of the remedies include a framework based on tikanga Māori (or Māori customary values) that recognises Māori rights to exercise tino rangatiratanga and kaitiakitanga over indigenous flora and fauna, other taonga, and mātauranga Māori.

What’s in the report?

The report is unique in that it looks to build a partnership between Māori and the Crown beyond the grievance process. The report looks to establish a culture in New Zealand where both cultures are promoted, rather than one being promoted above the other.

The report is far reaching, and recommends changes to laws, policies, and practises that affect Maori culture, health, education, language, and identity.

An example of one of the recommendations is to establish a Māori advisory committee to advise the Commissioners of Patents and Plant Variety rights on whether inventions are derived from Māori traditional knowledge or use taonga species.

You can read the full report online here.

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