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Government Inquiries and The Sim Commission

Between 1890 and 1975, at least twelve major Crown inquiries considered the operation of the perpetual lease regime. Several criticised the regime in very strong terms. The 1891 Rees-Carroll Commission, for example, stated that “[t]he Maoris’ rights were confiscated by one dash of the pen” and that “[i]t would be difficult to imagine a more flagrant case of legislative robbery.” When considering the various Acts and Amendments passed up to 1912, the McArthur-Kerr Commission identified two main themes: that “every legislative measure has been in favour of the lessees” and that “on no occasion has the Native owner been consulted in reference to any fresh legislation”.

The Sim Commission of 1926-27 was set up to investigate confiscations under the New Zealand Settlements Act 1863 and subsequent legislation, but its terms of reference were limited. It did not consider compensation for imprisonment or economic loss suffered. The Commission could only investigate whether confiscations exceeded what was “fair and just”, and was not permitted to consider any claim that Maori “who denied the Sovereignty of Her Majesty and repudiated Her authority”, nor whether the New Zealand Parliament had the power to pass the confiscation laws.

The Commission had limited time and resources for its purpose and therefore did not fully investigate the return of land, wahi tapu and other taonga. Despite its limitations, the Sim Commission represented the first time that Taranaki Maori received serious consideration of their grievances.

With regard to the outbreak of war that led to the confiscations, the Sim Commission concluded that Teira was not entitled to sell the Pekapeka block without the consent of Wiremu Kingi and his people, and that the Crown’s announcement that military operations were about to be undertaken against Wiremu Kingi’s people in 1860 was made “before they had engaged in rebellion of any kind”, and that in those circumstances they “had no alternative but to fight in their own self-defence”. It found that “the occupation of Tataraimaka [in 1863] was, in the circumstances, a declaration of war against the Natives”, and that war could have been avoided if the Waitara purchase had been abandoned before the occupation of Tataraimaka. The Commission stated that both the first and second Taranaki wars arose from the Waitara purchase.

For these reasons, the Commission argued that while those Maori who fought in the second Taranaki war “were engaged in rebellion within the meaning of the New Zealand Settlements Act 1863 . . . they ought not to have been punished by the confiscation of any of their lands.”

The Sim Commission recommended that the Crown should make annual reparations of £5,000, to be administered by a Board for the benefit of those Taranaki Maori whose lands had been confiscated. The Commission also recommended a single payment of £300 in acknowledgement of “the wrong that was done to the Natives at Parihaka”, including the destruction of crops and the looting of residents’ property. However, these payments were not discussed with the iwi concerned, and were never accepted as adequate. Payments were delivered in irregular sums and at irregular intervals each year until the Taranaki Maori Claims Settlement Act of 1944 provided for a regular annual £5,000 payment to the Taranaki Maori Trust Board. The 1944 Act also provided for the £300 Parihaka reparation to be paid, seventeen years after the Sim Commission first recommended it.

The Taranaki Maori Claims Settlement Act 1944 stated that Maori agreed to accept the sums in full settlement of claims relating to the confiscations and Parihaka. There is no evidence that Te Atiawa or any other iwi of Taranaki agreed to this. Neither these nor the previous annuities were inflation indexed, which subsequently became an issue for Taranaki Maori.