Te Runanganui o Te Ika Whenua Inc Society v Attorney General [1994] 2 N.Z.L.R. 20

Category: Case Law
Sub Category:Case Law
State/Country:Aotearoa - New Zealand
Summary Information:
'The case of Te Runanganui o Te Ika Whenua Inc Society v Attorney-General concerned a proposal to constitute certain energy companies and to transfer to them the undertakings of the Bay of Plenty Electric Power Board. That board owned and controlled a dam on the Wheao River. Te Ika Whenua, which represent certain Maori interests, lodged a claim to the river with the Waitangi Tribunal and brought proceedings seeking an interim declaration that the Minister of Energy not recommend the approval of the transfer. The appellants argued that they had property rights in the rivers, based on aboriginal title, and that the transfers would prejudice those rights. The Court of Appeal did not determine whether on the facts the appellants had established aboriginal title over the rivers, but discussed the concept of aboriginal title generally and concluded that aboriginal title was part of the law in New Zealand. In doing so, Cooke P, who delivered the judgement on behalf of the Court, held that: - ‘aboriginal title’ and ‘Maori customary title’ are interchangeable expressions; (at 23) - aboriginal title is a compendious expression to cover the rights over land and water enjoyed by the Indigenous or established inhabitants of a territory up to the time of its annexation; (at 23) - on colonisation, the Crown acquires a radical title, but that radical title is subject to the existing ‘native rights’; (at 24) - the existing native rights are usually, although not always, communal or collective; (at 24) - the nature and incident of aboriginal title are matters of fact dependent on the evidence in the particular case. (at 24)’ (Dorsett and Godden, 96). ‘Although the Court of Appeal affirmed that aboriginal title is recognised in New Zealand, the appellants were denied relief on the basis that they had little prospect of successfully arguing a claim of aboriginal title as the ownership and control of the area had been vested in the Bay of Plenty Electric Power Board for more than a decade.’ (Dorsett and Godden, 97).

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