Aotearoa’s highest court has had a rare opportunity to consider the relevance of mana whenua (authority over land) to certain decisions by the Minister of Conversation.

The judgment saw decisions to grant concessions for activities on two well-known islands quashed and referred back to the decision-maker for reconsideration, following an appeal by a Trust representing an iwi claiming mana whenua over the islands.

The question of mana whenua was considered in the majority judgment. The Court was satisfied that the iwi had mana whenua over the islands in question. It was considered that the fact the interests held were not exclusive did not necessarily undermine the position as to preference and active protection when it came to decisions about concessions for activities on the islands.

The Court also appears to have accepted the statement for the Trust that exercise of tikanga, kaitiakitanga and manaakitanga flows from the status of mana whenua. It was concluded that the Trust’s claim to preference in relation to certain concessions on the islands needed to be evaluated against that background.

This decision is likely to have important implications for authorities when making decisions impacting upon the mana whenua of iwi, hapū and whānau.