Claimants only get one shot at presenting their claim before the Tribunal, it is important that they begin now (or continue doing so) planning their claim and how it will be prepared and presented.
Following these steps will help ensure that your best claim is put forward most effectively and will help you achieve a successful outcome:
Know what you want
You should, as a claimant community, have clear ideas of what you want to achieve out of the claim process. Do you want an opportunity to be heard? A full Tribunal inquiry? Or an efficient directly-negotiated settlement? Whatever the goal is, simply having one will ensure that when times get difficult, claimants know where they are going and why.
Be aware of the process
Both Tribunal hearings and direct negotiations are complex and lengthy processes. You also need to be aware of the implications of each for you and your claimant community.
Get legal representation. Factors that should be considered when choosing your lawyer include a proven track record in the Treaty field, an ability to communicate complex issues in lay terms, and capacity to deal with the wide range of technical tasks. Having excellent legal representation will mean that the complex Tribunal process can be effectively navigated for your benefit by professional advisors who know what they are doing because they have done it for many groups before.
Ensure that you have expert witnesses. You should have lines of communication with the Waitangi Tribunal and the Crown Forestry Rental Trust so that you can ensure historians who will be doing research for you are the best available. Make sure you meet with them before they start researching your important claim. Your lawyer will be able to assist you with this.
Appoint the right people to your claims committee. The early establishment of a claims committee is important. Ideally, they should have a mixture of skills including proven leadership qualities and expertise in a field such as finance, business, communications and tikanga. In addition, because the claims process takes years, members must be committed for the long haul.
Ensure that there is an effective communication strategy to keep the claimant community informed. A robust claims co-ordination process will ensure that people are included and will help unify the claimant community.
Working with others
Establish lines of communication now for working with other claimant groups. You can then identify issues in common and avoid wasting energy during Tribunal hearings on airing disagreements. Remember, Treaty claims are against the Crown and is about its actions, not other Maori groups. Working with other claimants to collectively present your case focused against the Crown is essential.
Prepare for the long haul
A Treaty claim hearing and negotiation process is lengthy. Successful claimants and claims need people with stamina and commitment, and claimant groups with positive and strong relationships, all focused on the key issues.
Life after hearings
Once hearings have finished, there will be a delay before the Tribunal’s report is released. Use that time to plan for the next phase of the process – negotiating with the Crown. This is also the time when it is vital that the claimant community be kept informed about what is happening so that the group has more chance of sticking together for the common goal.