In a recent decision, the Māori Appellate Court considered their jurisdiction and the definition of a “class or group of Māori.”

The appeal concerned a dispute in the Māori Land Court, where the Court held that they did not have jurisdiction to determine the most appropriate representatives of a group (under section 30 of Te Ture Whenua Māori Act) as the group concerned was comprised of both Māori and non-Māori members.

Section 30 gives the court jurisdiction to determine representation only where there is a “class or group of Māori.” In this example, the group was connected by faith, rather than whakapapa, and had a majority Māori membership but was open to all ethnicities.

The Appellate Court disagreed with the determination of the Māori Land Court, holding that the Court’s jurisdiction should not be limited to groups connected only by whakapapa, or groups which have exclusively Māori membership.

The Court considered that restricting their jurisdiction in this way would be inconsistent with the lived experiences of Māori in the 21st century and the integrated nature of society in Aotearoa. The Court gave weight to the concern that if they did limit their jurisdiction, this would create obstacles for many Māori wishing to access culturally knowledgeable services to resolve this kind of dispute. 

In determining whether a group was a Māori group, the Court said that the number of Māori or non-Māori in the group may be a relevant consideration, but this is not determinative. The membership of some non-Māori members should not detract from the overall “Māoriness” of the group. In this case, the Court found it more persuasive that this was a group rooted in te ao Māori, established and led by and for Māori communities. 

If you are concerned about a dispute involving Māori land, it is helpful to seek legal advice to get the best outcome for you and your whānau.


Peter Johnston & Alexandra McCracken