An application has been made to the High Court by a Maori group looking to claim customary rights over the area around Motiti Island.
The Motiti Rohe Moana Trust has made the application on behalf of several hapu, although not all hapu named in the application support the bid.
The trust is seeking “the right and responsibility to act as kaitiaki (guardian) of the wahi tapu (sacred places) and taonga tuku iho (ancestral treasures) within the common coastal marine area” of Motiti Island.
They also seek the ability to impose a “rahui”, or ban, “if required for the protection of the site or resource”.
Among the sacred places are reefs, including Astrolabe Reef, upon which the wreck of the Rena sits.
Buddy Mikaere – whose hapu is named in the application, although he opposes it – says the group have until next year to push their case.
“You have the ability up until next year to make a claim for customary marine title over a defined area of sea. This also includes the right to carry out customary activities in that area as well, which can be anything apart from fishing, which is covered by separate legislation.”
He thinks there is a monetary motivation behind the claim.
“The group making this application have signed up with the owners and insurers of the Rena, who wish to dump the wreck of the Rena out on Motiti.
“If this happens, the trust and those they're representing get a substantial pay-out. If they can win this customary marine title case, they will then in effect become the equivalent of the environment court for that area of the seabed.”
If that happens, they'll have jurisdiction over the Rena wreck – and will likely keep it where it is.
“They say they represent all the hapu on Motiti Island, but we say no you don't,” argues Buddy.
“You don't represent our hapu (Ngai Te Hapu). Patuwai also say they don't represent them. Some of the hapu they name in their application also don't exist anymore.”
Buddy says he and many of his kinfolk are on the side who want the owners of the Rena to take the wreck away. He questions the motives of the Motiti Rohe Moana Trust.
“At the end of the day, it's all about the money.”
He says he and others will be going to court and opposing the trust's application.
The Motiti Rohe Moana Trust has been contacted for comment.