The Māori Land Court recently considered the duties of Trustees of Māori land under tikanga Māori. In the judgment, they outlined a suggested framework for understanding these duties and what they might involve. These duties are in addition to the duties set out under the Trusts Act 2019.

Some examples include:


Kaitiakitanga is a form of guardianship or care. Kaitiaki are people who are empowered with the responsibility to care for land or toanga, for example. The Court found that Trustees have a duty to respect the authority of kaitiaki of any Trust property, and to support the kaitiaki to care for that property.


Whanaungatanga is about upholding relationsips and embracing whakapapa. Māori Land Trusts have an inherent whanaungatanga element because any beneficiary of the Trust must be able to whakapapa to the land. It is important that Trustees act in a way that maintains relationships between parties.


Rāhui are a form of prohibition which aims to stop an activity from occurring, often to protect land or a resource from harm. The Court said that Trustees must uphold any legitimate rāhui on Trust property.


Mana is a core conept in understanding a Trustee’s duties under tikanga. Mana can be understood as the authority, influence, or importance of people, whenua, or taonga. The Court found that Trustees should seek to protect the mana of the land, any taonga on the land, and the relationship between people and the land.

It is important to note that tikanga is not static or codified. This means that tikanga will vary between iwi and hapu, and Trustee duties will be shaped by the tikanga practiced by the whānau or hapu who whakapapa to the land in question.

In this case, the Court suggested that if Trustees were unsure about the appropriate tikanga to apply, it may be neccesry to seek advice from a tikanga expert, or to hold a wānanga with the parties involved.  


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