Frequently Asked Questions

This case relates to the creation of the Nelson Tenths Reserves in the early days of colonial New Zealand, when Nelson was being established.


It seeks to secure the return of land from the Crown to make up the full ‘tenth’ that was guaranteed to the Māori customary landowners in 1845, but which the Crown never reserved in full.


In 1839, the New Zealand Company came to Aotearoa to buy land for its planned colonisation scheme.


At the time, an integral part of the New Zealand Company’s scheme was that one tenth of the land it purchased for any settlement from the customary Māori landowners would be set aside and held in trust for the customary Māori landowners forever, and that all land occupied by Māori (pā, urupā and cultivations) would be excluded from the sale.


This was officially recognised by Commissioner William Spain and became enshrined in the Crown Grant 1845. But the agreement was never honoured.

The New Zealand Company purchased 151,000 acres of Māori-owned land across the Nelson, Tasman and Golden Bay region for the purposes of establishing the Nelson settlement.


That means 15,100 acres of land should have been set aside for the benefit for the Māori landowners, excluding the land the customary Māori landowners were already actively using for living, cultivating, harvesting and burials, as well as their other wāhi tapu or sacred places

Only 5,100 acres were ever identified and reserved, far less than the legal entitlement.


This was made up of 100 one-acre town sections in Nelson, and 100 suburban sections of 50 acres in Motueka and Moutere.


But as more British settlers arrived much of that land was whittled away and, by 1882, it had diminished to less than 3,000 acres, under the management of the Crown Trustee.


The balance of the Nelson Tenths Reserves – a promised 10,000 acres of rural land – was never obtained , and in some cases the land Māori already lived on and relied upon was also not excluded from sale.


Currently, the customary Māori landowners have less than 20% of the land they’re legally entitled to.

In 1892 the Native Land Court identified the Māori customary landowners – those tūpuna who held mana whenua or legal authority over the land in the 1840s in the Nelson region.


Today the descendants of those tūpuna are the whānau and hapū who descend from those identified by the Native Land Court in 1892 and therefore whakapapa to the lands that are subject to the Nelson Tenths Reserves Trust.


The majority of beneficiaries of the Nelson Tenths Reserves Trust Estate are also owners of Wakatū Incorporation, a Māori Incorporation created in 1977 by its Māori owners to administer the remaining Nelson Tenths Reserves land.


The establishment of Wakatū marked the first time in over 130 years that the owners had control of the remnants of the Nelson Tenths. 


Since 1977, Wakatū has been focused on this kaupapa to Make the Tenths Whole for the benefit of all descendants of the original tūpuna who owned the land.

This is one of New Zealand’s oldest property law claims – this case has been argued in some form, by our whānau, for more than 180 years.

In that time the Māori customary owners have explored many avenues to recover what was owed, from government petitions to court proceedings.


In 2017 the Supreme Court finally found in our favour (by a 4 – 1 majority), ruling that the Crown has a duty to honour the original duty,  by reserving 15,100 acres of land as the Nelson Tenths’ Reserves, as well as reserving and protecting our papakāinga and other significant cultural lands.


It’s the first time a New Zealand court has found that the Crown owes fiduciary duties to Māori landowners to protect their property rights, and it is arguably the Supreme Court’s most important decision yet on Māori legal issues.


The case is significant in Aotearoa as well as globally and has caught the attention of Indigenous Peoples all over the world.

The Supreme Court sent the case back to the High Court to determine the extent of the Crown’s breaches, any Crown defences and remedies. Now, after six long years, the Nelson Tenths Reserves case will finally be heard in the Wellington High Court, starting August 14. The case is expected to run through until October.

Kaumātua Rore Stafford is representing and pursuing the claim on behalf of the Māori customary landowners, the descendants of those tūpuna identified by the Native Land Court in 1893. The legal proceedings have been on foot since 1986. Rore is supported by a Working Committee, comprised of the descendants (Ngā Uri).


Wakatū is funding the proceedings.


Attorney-General Hon David Parker is representing the Crown.

Ultimately, Ngā Uri are seeking:


  1. The Crown to restore its mana by resolving the matter directly rather than continuing to delay it through lengthy court processes.

  2. The Crown to honour its legal duties by returning the land it holds which ought to be part of the Nelson Tenths Reserves Trust and make the Nelson Tenths Reserves whole again.

  3. Compensation for the losses caused by the Crown’s breach of its legal obligations.

This is a legal case, not a Treaty claim and is being addressed through the courts.


The plaintiffs’ argument is simple – a trust was created in 1845, the Supreme Court has held that the Crown owes legal duties, the Crown still holds land within the Nelson area, which should have been part of the Nelson Tenths Reserves Trust.


As a result the Māori customary landowners want their land, the trust property, returned.


This legal strategy is grounded in the belief that the landowners are entitled to the full protection of the law in the same way as any others in Aotearoa. We are entitled to seek a remedy from the courts, for a breach of trust, in the same way as all other New Zealanders.

Proprietors of Wakatū & Ors v Attorney-General is a case about the role and legal duties of the Crown trustee in relation to its beneficiaries, the original Māori landowners of Nelson, Tasman Bay and Golden Bay.


All beneficiaries of trusts in Aotearoa, regardless of their ethnicity, are entitled to go to the courts to determine the extent of their legal and property rights and to hold those who breach those rights to account.


This right of access to the courts is at the heart of our legal system and is fundamental to the concept of equality and equity.