The Ngāi Tahu Claims Settlement Act 1998, enforced the Ngai Tahu Deed of Settlement entered into on 21 November 1997. Both the Deed of Settlement and the Settlement Claims Act were based off the findings of the Ngāi Tahu Report 1991. The Ngāi Tahu report was the Waitangi tribunals’ most comprehensive inquiry into Ngāi Tahu’s claims that dated back to the 1840’S. The inquiry found that the Crown acted unconscionably and in repeated breach of the Treaty of Waitangi’ in its land dealings with the tribe. The report follows nine parts nine parts – “the Nine Tall Trees of Ngai Tahu”. Each of the first eight trees represents a different area of land purchased from the tribe. The ninth tree represented Ngāi Tahu’s food resources. Each showed that by disconnecting Ngāi Tahu from their land, they were unable to provide for themselves and protect the lands. It was these findings that led to the Ngāi Tahu Claims Settlement Act 1998.
This Act gave effect to the matters required to settle all of Ngāi Tahu’s historical claims. The Act contains the recognition of the mauri (life force) of each different site, as contained in schedules 15 – 94 – which state in respect of each site, that it.. “represents the essence that binds the physical and spiritual elements of all things together, generating and upholding all life. All elements of the natural environment possess a life force, and all forms of life are related.”
This involved compensation valued at $170 million, confirmed Ngāi Tahu’s ownership of pounamu (greenstone), granted certain rights to sites of significance and allowed them some role in managing conservation estate resources within their boundaries.The Crown also expressed its ‘profound regret’ and apologized ‘unreservedly’ for the suffering and hardship it had caused by not honoring its Treaty obligations. In addition, Ngāi Tahu’s sacred maunga (mountain), Aoraki/Mount Cook, was to be symbolically returned to the tribe and later gifted back to the nation. The Ngai Tahu Claims Settlement Act 1998 bound the Crown and Ngā Tahu to its agreements.