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The Queen says sorry to wronged Maoris

David Barber Wellington
Thursday 02 November 1995 01:02 GMT



The Queen will today put her signature to an abject apology to a New Zealand Maori tribe for killings and the seizure of land it suffered under her ancestor, Queen Victoria.

As Queen of New Zealand she will give the Royal Assent to an Act of Parliament compensating the Tainui tribe of Waikato province in North Island for its suffering during a war 130 years ago.

The apology says the Crown acted unjustly in sending troops to fight the Tainui after unfairly labelling then rebels and offers "profound regret and apologies for the loss of lives because of the hostilities arising from its Invasion and at the devastation of property and social life which resulted".

The New Zealand government has stressed that while the document is in the name of the Crown, it is not a personal apology from the Queen and it has rejected a demand from some Maoris to ask her to make such an apology.

"The Queen acts through her governments and doesn't do things personally," said the Minister of Justice, Doug Graham. "lt would be quite improper to ask her to apologise personally.

"lt will enable the Waikato Tainui to at least have a statute with her signature on it, but under no circumstances is that to be regarded as the Queen herself saying sorry. Otherwise she'd spend the rest of her reign going around the world doing the same thing."

The Governor-General, Dame Catherine Tizard, normally gives the Royal Assent to bills passed by the New Zealand Parliament. But the Queen, who is here to attend next week's Commonwealth summit, has agreed to a request by the government to sign this one. She will do so at Government House, Wellington, in the presence of the Maori Queen, Dame Te Atairangikaahu, and elders of the Tainui tribe.

The bill acknowledges that the invasion breached the Treaty of Waitangi, signed in 1840 on Queen Victoria's behalf, under which Maori tribes ceded sovereignty in return for guaranteed continued possession of their lands. Despite this, the Crown confiscated about 1.2 million acres of Tainui land in 1865 as punishment for what it called rebellion.

The Queen's signature is highly significant to the tribe. "Because Queen Victoria was in essence a signatory to the treaty, it is important that the current monarch has some involvement, however symbolic," said a government official.

The six-paragraph apology attached to the compensation bill acknowledges the spiritual regard Maoris have for land. It recognises the confiscation was wrong and has "caused Waikato to the present time to suffer feelings in relation to their lost lands akin to those of orphans."

It talks of the tribe's sense of grief at being alienated from its land and acknowledges the seizure had a "crippling impact on the welfare, economy and development of the Waikato province. The government will give back 39,000 acres of Crown-owned land, valued at $NZ100m (pounds 43m). About 30,000 Tainui people will benefit from the settlement.

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