In 1974 a Commission of Inquiry into Māori Reserved Land, the Sheehan Commission, reported to parliament. The commission was largely concerned with the perpetual leasehold (LIP) dimension of Māori Reserved Land and the associated injustice imposed on Māori Land owners. One of the commissioners, Rolland O’Regan, a well-recognised expertise in both LIP and land valuation policy, had a major influence on the commission’s findings and report.
The Commission of Inquiry followed the uncovering of a significant bureaucratic tussle between The Māori Trustee and government officials from various agencies. The Māori Trustee was dutifully defending its statutory function of protecting Māori beneficial interest in the Greymouth Post Office lease for a 100-year term lease expiring in 1972. The block accommodating nearly all of the region’s central government function was surrounded by LIP lands but had itself never been converted. The Māori Trustee wanted to secure a contemporary term lease renewal for the Māori owners but the various state agencies were resisting vigorously.
The Māori Graduates Association, led by Apirana Mahuika, Koro Dewes and Tipene O’Regan, became aware of the bureaucratic struggle. They secured copies of the relevant files and delivered them to the office of Matiu Rata, Minister of Māori Affairs, protesting about the murky state behaviour and backroom fight taking place without reference to the landowners. Rata immediately intervened in the and established a commission of inquiry. That inquiry then reached out across all Māori reserved land and a wider tribal community was involved.
The Māori Graduates Association’s involvement had been sought on the initiative of the Ngāi Tahu Māori Trust Board. The board was initially motivated by concerns within Ngāi Tahu about the West Coast South Island reserved lands and the Te Aute College leases in Hawkes Bay. Although a junior member of the Ngāi Tahu Māori Trust Board at the time, Tipene O’Regan led that battle, because he was in the process of establishing the Mawhera Incorporation on the West Coast – the first of the reserved land incorporations.
Having done so in 1976, he then assisted Kahu Kotua in forming the Wakatū Incorporation in Nelson, and the Parininihi ki Waitotara (PKW) Incorporation in Taranaki, with Charles Bailey. They were the first three. A number of other bodies followed over time.
“I was up to my eyeballs backing the concerns of my kaumatua in the West Coast and Te Aute lease issues,” says Sir Tipene.
“A couple of our senior kaumatua – the late Frank Winter and the late Robert Whaitiri – were Te Aute College old boys and they were indignant about those leases. The Māori Graduates Association, having involved itself in the processes for getting the whole thing underway, then backed out and turned to other issues.”
“It was about that time that Sir Hepi Te Heuheu convened us to say we needed a separate organisation. The New Zealand Māori Council would do nothing about these leasehold lands and their incorporation because it was completely in the grip of the very senior and very much respected kaumatua from the East Coast, Sir Henare Ngata, and traditional East Coast Māori freehold land incorporations. They were worried that if the Māori LIP leased land legislative changes we were trying to bring about become a reality, then they would lose their favourable tax position.
“And so the New Zealand Māori Council would not move, and Sir Hepi Te Heuheu was indignant. We talked about it quite a lot, and he decided that there should be a group of Māori economic authorities. It was essentially a plan to bring those authorities together and leave the Māori council to play with itself.” Sir Hepi then gifted the proverbial pepeha – ‘Me Uru Kahikatea’ – to the new Federation of Māori Authorities. It relates to the kahikatea – the white pine with its long roots into the ground and the way they intertwine and stand together. ‘Me Uru Kahikatea’.
In the 1994 Queen’s Birthday Honours, Tipene O’Regan was appointed a Knight Bachelor, for services to the Māori people and the community.