Saana Waitai Murray-Wahine Toa
Saana Waitai Murray is a pint-sized old lady with a twinkle in her
eye. She takes an arm to steady her on the walk to where her
photograph is to be taken.
She wears a long red dress and laughs away with the photographer as
she stands outside the imposing Orakei Marae. Then she touches the
large coiled white shell she has worn around her neck every day for
the 16 years since this historic Waitangi Tribunal claim began.
The shell is a fossilised pupuharakeke, a flax snail. Once abundant in
Mrs Murray's Far North homeland, the pupuharakeke is now a threatened
The snail is why - in part - the old lady has made the journey from Te
Hapua to this Auckland marae for the final days of one of the biggest,
and potentially most explosive, of the Treaty claims.
Mrs Murray is Ngati Kuri. Her people want control of the endangered
pupuharakeke - the guardianship of a taonga [treasure] which links
their present to ancestors of 1000 years ago.
But they don't want guardianship, or kaitiakitanga, of just the
pupuharakeke. In Mrs Murray's words, this claim is about "Maori
control of things Maori".
Known as the flora and fauna claim, six Maori tribes are seeking
rights to all New Zealand's indigenous flora and fauna. And much more.
The claim covers the guardianship of all taonga, and taonga can
include anything from traditional knowledge and intellectual property
rights over cultural ideas and designs to the protection of language
The tribes believe the Crown has breached Article Two of the Treaty by
failing to actively protect the exercise of tino rangatiratanga
(sovereignty) and kaitiakitanga (guardianship) over flora and fauna
and other taonga.
Further, they say the Crown has failed to protect the taonga itself.
The tribes want the Maori world view to be acknowledged and respected
and the true partnership between Maori and Pakeha, as declared in the
Treaty, to be enacted.
At 81, Mrs Murray is one of only two of the original claimants who are
The other is Del Wihongi of Te Rarawa, who is ill and could not come.
But these old ladies were the initial driving forces behind this
Elders from Ngati Kuri, Ngati Wai, Te Rarawa, Ngati Porou, Ngati
Kahungunu and Ngati Koata first lodged the claim in 1991. It has been
a long journey to get to this point, the final two weeks of submissions.
Today is the turn of Tai Tokerau, the Northland tribes, to be heard.
Outside the marae Mrs Murray explains what the pupuharakeke means to
Ngati Kuri. The snail lives in the flax and Ngati Kuri ancestor Kupe
first heard its cry 1000 years ago, she says. The pupuharakeke is the
tribe's guardian: "It took care of our people."
She says when war parties came threatening Ngati Kuri the warriors
crushed the snails underfoot and when the snails are crushed they send
out "this weird wailing sound".
"Pupuharakeke were more or less their warning system that war parties
were coming so they were able to get on their canoes and get away to
Now her people are barred from the scientific reserve on Poor Knights
Island where a remnant of the pupuharakeke population survives, she says.
Yet Ngati Kuri have been the guardians of this taonga for 1000 years.
Kaitiakitanga of such a precious taonga should not be taken away: "We
have a whakapapa [genealogical relationship] to this one."
Inside Orakei Marae in three rows of seats are the claimants' lawyers,
a sea of grey suits and dark socks amid the rich reds and oranges of
the panels and carvings.
At the front is another row of five: the chief judge for claim Wai
262, Joe Williams, who is flanked by tribunal members.
Moriori lawyer Maui Solomon speaks at the makeshift podium as a gas
heater hums nearby. Solomon is representing the Tai Tokerau tribes.
The tribunal has raised with him Crown fears that Maori control of
everything would exclude non-Maori.
Solomon replies by saying the well-being of one of the Treaty partners
has been put to one side since 1840.
"There was an expectation when the Treaty was signed that there would
be two peoples living together in one nation and they would respect
one another's laws and world views."
This had not happened. Tangata whenua had been sidelined. This claim
was a way of restoring their well-being, says Solomon.
He holds up a pupuharakeke and says that for Mrs Murray it is
important that her relationship with the taonga is maintained, that
she has full access to it and thus the ability to pass on knowledge to
He explains to the tribunal his submission is trying to portray
complex issues from a tikanga Maori perspective rather than a tikanga
Later, outside the meeting house, he says the claim was brought about
by a group of elders concerned that indigenous flora and fauna were
being taken offshore. Foreign countries were gaining access without
Maori interests being consulted or their consent sought.
"This claim started with Mrs Wihongi travelling to Japan to bring back
four native varieties of kumara because of the relationship through
whakapapa that her people have with the kumara and the importance of
the kumara to sustaining human life in New Zealand for 1000 years."
The claim is about acknowledging Maori do have rights and interests to
flora and fauna and that if taonga is to be taken offshore, or
genetically modified, Maori need to be actively engaged in the
discussion and involved in the decision-making.
The claim is also about an increasing "misappropriation and offensive"
use of Maori words, images and designs by national and international
Suddenly, the international community is waking up to the importance
of indigenous cultures and indigenous knowledge and how this can be
used to add value to their commercial products, says Solomon.
Maori design is turning up on plastic toys and in restaurants in
foreign countries, but no one has asked permission, he says.
And while Pakeha may think there is financial motivation behind claims
like this, Solomon says the elders have not talked about money at all.
During the hearings a young woman with a moko and a red hibiscus in
her hair sits in the audience and takes notes.
This is Catherine Davis of Te Rarawa. She says the claim began with
the kumara and expanded to issues relating to traditional knowledge,
knowledge of the world, the environment, genetics, culture, language.
The haka is an example of the inappropriate use of taonga. Davis says
everyone is proud of the haka "and we know why, it's an awesome,
But she says the haka was created by the ancestors and when performed
incorrectly or without understanding of the story behind it, or with a
beer in hand, it was disrespected.
When people are drunk they lose their mana and lose their control "and
you just don't want one of your taonga associated and dirtied with
that kind of behaviour".
Saana Waitai Murray acknowledges the judge has a tough job in sorting
through this claim. He has to be fair to all the nationalities now
living in New Zealand, as he must be, she says.
"But we originally signed the Treaty with the British, and strangely
enough I'm a great-granddaughter of a British soldier and here am I
fighting for my Maori survival."
Maori had not been in control since the Treaty was signed.
Kawanatanga, or governorship, was given to the Queen of England so she
could control her own people in the new colony. It was never about
taking away Maori sovereignty, says the kuia.
Maori chiefs were already the rangatira of this country but they never
owned the country, she says. They were the caretakers on behalf of all
who survived here. "That's how I see it anyway."
Another week of submissions into Wai 262 will be heard this week in
Wellington, where the Crown will have its say. It will probably take
at least another year for a report to be written.
The question is, will resolution come in Mrs Murray's lifetime?
Nga Ringa Whakahaere o te Iwi Maori is a national network representing more than 40 Maori traditional healing practitioners or Whare Oranga. Our people are very much dependent on the use and development of natural therapeutic products for Rongoa Maori or traditional health and healing applications. These products derive from our forests and mountains, from our lakes and waterways, and from our coastal and geothermal areas. Any regulation of these things must be in agreement with Maori as Tangata Whenua under The Treaty of Waitangi, regardless of whether they are prepared for koha or commercial purposes