Treaty settlements – how can museums support iwi to realise their cultural aspirations?

By Kylie Ngaropo, Manager Iwi Development, National Services Te Paerangi

Over the past few years, the Treaty settlement process has seen an increase in the number of iwi seeking to formalise relationships with local, national, and international museums that have taonga in their care. It is important for museums to be aware of the progress taking place in this area, and to further understand the significant role they have in supporting iwi to realise their cultural aspirations pertaining to taonga.


What is a Treaty settlement?  

A Treaty settlement is an agreement between the Crown and a Māori claimant group to settle all of that claimant group’s historical claims against the Crown. Claimant groups are usually iwi or large hapū (sub-tribes) that have a longstanding historical and cultural association with a particular area. Most historical Treaty claims involve one, or a combination, of the following three types of land loss or alienation:

  • purchases of Māori land before 1865
  • confiscation of Māori land by the Crown under the New Zealand Settlements Act 1863
  • alienation of land after 1865.

A Treaty settlement is usually made up of:

  • an historical account, acknowledgements, and the Crown apology
  • cultural redress
  • financial and commercial redress
  • a document known as a Deed of Settlement.

The historical account provides an outline of historical events that are agreed between the Crown and the claimant group. The acknowledgements provide the basis for the Crown apology to the claimant group for its actions or inactions.

Cultural redress provides claimant groups with a range of mechanisms, which include:

  • providing opportunities for input into the management or control or ownership of sites, areas or customary resources on Crown-owned land with which the claimant group has traditional and cultural associations
  • providing opportunities for developing future relationships with government departments in areas of importance to the claimant group, and
  • facilitating the development of future relationships with other agencies, such as local bodies, that play significant roles in the area to which the claimant group has traditional and cultural associations.

The settlement is expressed in detail in a document known as a Deed of Settlement. Legislation is usually required to fully implement the Deed of Settlement.

What role do museums play?

As a part of cultural redress, and an integral component of the Deed of Settlement, iwi identify their cultural aspirations and priorities.I It is here that museums can play a significant role in assisting iwi to realise their cultural aspirations pertaining to taonga.

In many cases, iwi are seeking opportunities to engage with museums on a number of levels. Engagement with iwi may occur through a letter addressed to the museum from the Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations and the Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage; through contact via government agencies such as the Ministry of Culture and Heritage or the Office of Treaty Settlements; or iwi may approach the museum independently.

Iwi are interested in knowing where taonga are located or housedCreating an inventory of taonga is a priority for those iwi wishing to reconnect to their taonga (see the Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairarapa Tāmaki Nui a Rua Trust project here) as well as exploring ways for these taonga to be located closer to home. Iwi want to contribute and participate in decisions around taonga held in museums to which they have whakapapa affiliations and interests, and may seek co-management arrangements for the care and management of these taonga.

Iwi are interested in information, history, and research that museums may have around their taonga, and this can often present opportunities for iwi and museums to share information about their taonga with each other. Digital access and virtual repatriation also enable iwi to connect or reconnect with their taonga.

Iwi may express an interest in having taonga returned, therefore museums need to be aware of the implications for them and the taonga in their care, and what processes are in place to address these requests.

Cultural aspirations for iwi also include their desire to grow their own capability to care for their taonga in their own communities and to share their stories with the world. Museums can support iwi to build this capability through the exchange of knowledge and expertise.

This is an exciting time, with many opportunities for iwi, museums and taonga in their collections right across the country. For more information on Treaty settlements go to For more information about how your museum can engage successfully with iwi, contact National Services Te Paerangi on our freephone helpline, 0508 678 743.

Kylie Ngaropo