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LETTER: Collaborate on customary law in 2023

Wednesday 28 December 2022 | Written by Supplied | Published in Letters to the Editor, Opinion


LETTER: Collaborate on customary law in 2023
Members of the Koutu Nui on the last day of their annual general meeting in June this year. 21061727

Dear Editor, Two matters of concern stood out when members of the Koutu Nui reviewed the past year at their end-of-year function.

Recent media reports said that the House of Ariki AGM in October 2022 agreed to supersede the Land Court in relation to disputes over title-holders, by repealing the relevant section of the Cook Islands Act 1915 and allowing House of Ariki to make decisions with regard to arikititles.

However, the Koutu Nui believes that it is up to the kopu ariki to decide who holds the arikititle.

Recognising that Cook Islands society has evolved so that violence under customary law as a way to settle disputes is no longer acceptable, the Koutu Nui supports mediation in instances where the kopu ariki are unable to agree.

Under mediation, the disputing parties agree on who the mediator should be, usually a person who has had training and experience in the law and conducting negotiations. In order to achieve fairness, a neutral mediator would be preferred. As part of the mediation process, parties agree to be bound by the recommendations of the mediator, resulting in fairer dispute settlement.

Koutu Nui members are concerned that simply shifting decision-making on ariki titles to the House of Ariki would result in decisions affected by personal preferences or benefits for the decision-maker, together with lack of knowledge about the genealogy and history of which family branch previously held the taoanga (title).

For all islands (except Mangaia, Mitiaro and Pukapuka) the information recording the geneology and history of the ariki titles was obtained under oath and was written up in a Block File at the Land Court records, during the Land Court investigations in the period 1901-1910.

The Koutu Nui proposes that free, prior, informed consent should be required before making any change to legislation or administrative measures that may affect matakeinanga (clan members). 1 A Parliamentary Select Committee would provide a suitable forum for ensuring free, prior, informed consent.

The Koutu Nui further believes that it would be preferable for the House of Ariki to give the Land Court judges the guidance they have asked for, that is documentation of what is akonoanga maori (maori custom) for each of the taoanga maori (Maori titles). This House of Ariki Runanga Tango Enua project started in 2021 with the aim of documenting akonoanga maori and it should be a priority as part of unfinished business. 

Now that the House of Ariki has shifted under the administration of Ministry of Cultural Development (Tauranga Vananga), funding for that project has been approved under Conservation International through the GEF Inclusive Conservation Initiative to support the leadership of Indigenous Peoples and local communities in stewarding land, water, and natural resources.

In 2021, the Koutu Nui called for a review by a Parliamentary Select Committee of the whole Cook Islands Act 1915, in particular those provisions relating to land law.  During 2022, as part of the procedure to support a call for Parliamentary Select Committee on that Act, members of the Executive Committee of the Koutu Nui have worked to develop a draft policy to protect landowners. 

The vision is for a Parliamentary Select Committee to use the finalized draft policy as a basis so that any interested person who is bound by that Act could make comments and/or suggested remedies.

In the New Year, members of the Koutu Nui further ask for the support of the House of Ariki for the draft policy and their call for a Parliamentary Select Committee to review the whole of the Cook Islands Act 2015, and to work together to achieve the Runanga Tango Enua project, which should assist in dispute settlement.

The President of the Koutu Nui, Paroro Mataiapo Rongo Preston wishes everyone all the best for the holiday season. 

1.In the United Nations, Cook Islands still comes under New Zealand, which in 2010 signed up for theUN Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).  

 Article 19of that Declaration says that: States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consentbefore adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.

Ms Imogen P. Ingram

TePa Mataiapo

Koutu Nui Co-Secretary & Treasurer  


Te Tuhi Kelly on 29/12/2022

And if they still can't agree, what then? More mediation and meanwhile the responsibilities accorded the title languishes. More importantly as long as the shackels of the House of Ariki Act are still in place, Govt will interfere, especially when it comes to a view Govt does not accept. The HoA Act is a recipe for continuing welfare status, self-determination is a myth whilst the Act hovers over your heads. That's what you should be focusing on, self-determination, self-empowerment and not dependent on Govt for an annual handout money as you currently are. You balk and Govt walks by threatening to withhold your annual payment, as has happened in the past.