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Māori land is defined by Te Ture Whenua Māori Act 1993 as being one of two things:
Māori Customary Land:
- has not had its ownership investigated and determined by the Māori Land Court
- has not been acquired by the Crown
- does not have a Land Transfer Act title or Deed
- continues to be held in accordance with tikanga Māori (Māori customary values and practices).
Before the arrival of colonial settlers, all land in New Zealand was held as customary land. One of the primary tasks of the early Native Land Court was to define the boundaries of that land and convert it from communally held land by allocating owners and shares.
Only a small number of customary land blocks remain in New Zealand and they total less than 700 hectares.
Māori Customary Land:
- cannot be alienated, disposed of by will, or vested or acquired under an Act
- can be set aside as a Māori reservation
- can be changed to Māori freehold land.
- can have an easement or laying out of a roadway can be made over it
- any change in owners who hold a parcel of Māori customary land, can be changed in accordance with tikanga Māori.
Where Crown land was Māori customary land immediately before it became Crown land:
- the Crown can apply for that land to be Māori customary land, and
- the Māori Land Court will determine who the owners were who held the land immediately before it became Crown land, in accordance with tikanga Māori, and
- once the owners have been decided by the Court the land is to be held in accordance with tikanga Māori.
Māori Freehold Land:
- has been investigated by the Māori Land Court and a freehold order has been issued or
- was set aside by the Crown as Māori freehold land and awarded by Crown Grants to specific individuals or
- has had the status determined as Māori Freehold Land by order of the Māori Land Court.
Māori Freehold Land is held by individuals who have shares together as tenants in common.
In a modern context it has two main characteristics which make it a unique land tenure:
- economic value
- cultural value.
An interest in Māori land is, like general land, an economic asset that may be used, traded, sold or transferred.
However, unlike general land, our Act sets strong rules around ensuring that land stays in the hands of its owners, whānau and the hapū associated with it.
Our Act recognises that Māori land is a taonga tuku iho of special significance to Māori passed from generation to generation.
An interest in Māori land is also considered a tangible whakapapa (genealogical) link for owners to their past and present whānau, hapū and Iwi, whether they live on or close to the land or not.
The preferred class of alienee are a key group of people who are at the very centre of decisions we make about Māori land.
The term preferred class of alienee (PCA) is defined in our Act as being the following people:
- children of an owner or their descendants
- whanaunga of an owner associated with the land in accordance with tikanga Māori
- other beneficial owners who are members of the hapū associated with the land
- trustees of anyone above
- descendants of any former owner who is or was a member of the hapū associated with the land
- a person who has been legally adopted under the provisions of the Adoption Act 1955
- a person who has been adopted in accordance with Māori customary practise and their status has been approved by the court (whāngai).
In relation to shares in a Māori Incorporation, the preferred class also includes the Incorporation itself where no other member of the preferred class accepts an offer to sell or transfer those incorporation shares.
Our Act provides various safeguards to ensure that Māori land may only be transferred by succession, gift or sale to the PCA. Where members of the PCA choose not to accept a transfer, only then can an interest be transferred outside of the PCA.
These safeguards are in place to maintain an ongoing blood connection from generation to generation in Māori land.
Succession is the transfer of shares from a deceased owner to their descendants and beneficiaries.
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