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Māori Land and Land Tenure in New Zealand: 150 years of the Māori land court.

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Comparative Law Journal of the Pacific, 23, 97-133

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This article provides an historical overview that addresses the evolution and impact of New Zealand's Māori Land Court over a span of 150 years.

Established in 1865, the Māori Land Court is a central judicial institution in New Zealand, deeply interwoven with the nation’s legal, cultural, and political fabric. Boast’s survey is tailored for those without extensive knowledge of Māori land law or New Zealand legal history, offering insights into the complexities and ideological shifts surrounding land tenure and indigenous cultures. The article traces the court’s origins to the Native Lands Acts of 1862 and 1865, marking a significant shift in policies regarding Māori land acquisition. Initially aimed at converting Māori land from customary tenures to English law freehold tenures, the court evolved over time, reflecting changes in societal attitudes towards land ownership, indigenous rights, and customary law. Boast critically examines various legislative amendments and their implications, particularly highlighting the court’s role in protecting Māori interests. Significant attention is given to the controversies and criticisms surrounding the court and its judges. The court’s operations in the 19th century, particularly its handling of complex land title investigations and partitions, are detailed. Boast also delves into the court’s dealings with navigable water bodies, including lakes, riverbeds, and the foreshore, which have been historically contentious. The latter part of the article focuses on modern developments, including the 1993 Te Ture Whenua Māori/Māori Land Act, which marked a shift towards conserving Māori land within Māori ownership. Current trends and proposed reforms, such as the 2017 Māori Land Bill, are discussed, with Boast critiquing the Bill’s potential implications on the Māori Land Court’s future role and jurisdiction. Boast concludes by reaffirming the Māori Land Court’s unique and significant position in New Zealand’s legal landscape, its contributions to cultural preservation, and its ongoing relevance in addressing Māori land issues.

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