No. 257, 1889. —Petition of Mehaka Tokopounamu and 86 Others.
Petitioners state that they belong to Te Patuheuheu, a section of the Urewera Tribe; that they are the owners of a block of land called Waiohau No. 1, containing by admeasurement 14,464 acres; that the said block was awarded to them (some 145 in number) by the Native Land Court; that in their list of owners they had, partly out of consideration, admitted a small section of the Ngatimanawa under Harehare; that shortly after H. K. Burt, practising as a licensed interpreter and general land agent in the Bay of Plenty district, entered into negotiations with the Natives for the purchase of the said land; that contemporary with himself was another purchaser of the same block, a Mr. Preece, who also was a licensed interpreter; that, possibly in consequence of this competition, the purchases made by the said parties were of a very loose and reckless character, no observance being paid to the conditions and formalities necessary in such matters, and prescribed by law; that in many cases the consideration-money paid was inadequate, in some cases it was not paid at all, and in others it consisted of stores and firearms; and that many of the signatures were obtained page 5without any attesting officer being present. The said block came before the Native Land Court at Te Taheke for subdivision; but the petitioners allege that they received no notice whatever of the sitting, and consequently did not attend; that, although, as they have since heard, the Court was adjourned from Te Taheke to Rotorua, they deny receiving any notice of that sitting; that subsequently they have been informed, which information is borne out by the Court papers, that Harehare and two others of the Ngatimanawa were present at the Rotorua Court; that they arranged with H. R. Burt as to the procedure to be adopted, and forthwith appeared before the Court as representing the desires and wishes of the whole of the owners who were absent; they falsely stated to the Court that a voluntary arrangement had been arrived at, and that a division shown on the plan produced should be given effect to; that thereupon the Court awarded subdivision B of Waiohau No. 1 to only two persons—viz., Peraniko Pani and Hira te Mumuhu, the said award containing 7,000 acres, the half of the whole block, and representing only forty-three interests, which had been purchased by H. R. Burt; it also included their present cultivations, wahi tapu, and permanent settlement, which they have occupied for the last eighteen years. The petitioners, having set forth all the chief particulars in their case, pray that strict and searching inquiry may be made into the matter, and immediate relief afforded them.
I am directed to report as follows: That the Committee, after hearing the evidence of Mehaka Tokopounamu and Korowhiti, carefully perusing papers submitted to the Committee by H. R. Burt, and after looking over the minutes of the proceedings of the Native Land Court, have come to the conclusion that, in the main, the allegations made by the petitioners are correct, and a great injustice has been inflicted upon them, although they do not altogether hold the petitioners blameless in the matter. In recommending the Government to institute a strict inquiry into the case of the petitioners, with a view of taking such remedial measures as will place them in the position of getting their rights, the Committee would draw special attention to the reckless, illegal, and loose manner in which the purchases referred to in the petition were made, and would quote the following paragraph in the minutes above mentioned to show the want of security there is in Native Land Courts for the proper representation of the Native owners, and how the Court is frequently, though unwittingly, made the channel through which nefarious transactions are legalised: "I hand into the Court a schedule showing the names of the fifty-four sellers, also a list of eleven of those [whose signatures have not been legally attested, and to whom balances are yet due. In respect of the forty-three first named the purchase is legally complete.] (Mr. Harry Burt explained to the Court the nature of the two lists above referred to as defined in the words above given and bracketed.) I also put in a schedule of the two representative names, which we desire to have specified in the order for No. 1b, viz., Peraniko Ahuriri, Hira te Mumuhu. Schedule, as above, published, and objectors challenged. Harehare (brother of Peraniko) rose to state that there was no opposition."