What is Māori Land?

The information in this section has been prepared to help you understand what the term "Māori land" means. Defining Māori land, however, is complex and technical and requires a legal definition.

The legal definition is stated below under Status of Land. If you require an interpretation of the status of your land we suggest you contact a land professional.

If you are unsure about whether the land you are researching is Māori land or not, contact the appropriate Māori Land Court District to check.

Māori land: A legal definition - Section 129 (ss 1&2) Te Ture Whenua Māori Act 1993

PART VI

STATUS OF LAND

129. All land to have particular status for purposes of Act---(1) For the purposes of this Act, all land in New Zealand shall have one of the following statuses:

(a) Māori customary land

(b) Māori freehold land

(c) General land owned by Māori

(d) General land

(e) Crown land

(f) Crown land reserved for Māori.

(2) For the purposes of this Act,---

(a) Land that is held by Māori in accordance with tikanga Māori shall have the status of Māori customary land

(b) Land, the beneficial ownership of which has been determined by the Māori Land Court by freehold order, shall have the status of Māori freehold land

(c) Land (other than Māori freehold land) that has been alienated from the Crown for a subsisting estate in fee simple shall, while that estate is beneficially owned by more than 4 persons of whom a majority are Māori, have the status of General land owned by Māori

(d) Land (other than Māori freehold land and General land owned by Māori) that has been alienated from the Crown for a subsisting estate in fee simple shall have the status of General land

(e) Land (other than Māori customary land and Crown land reserved for Māori) that has not been alienated from the Crown for a subsisting estate in fee simple shall have the status of Crown land

(f) Land (other than Māori customary land) that has not been alienated from the Crown for a subsisting estate in fee simple but is set aside or reserved for the use or benefit of Māori shall have the status of Crown land reserved for Māori.

How land became Māori freehold land (from its Māori customary land status)

Māori freehold land came into being in two ways:

  • Firstly, the Crown set aside land for Māori from the Māori customary land that it purchased for the settlement of New Zealand. Specific Māori individuals were granted Crown Grants for joint ownership of such land
  • Secondly, the Māori Land Court investigated ownership of Māori customary land that had not been alienated and appointed (up to) ten Māori individuals into joint ownership. Ownership of the land was confirmed by the Māori Land Court and title was granted by the Crown.

The purpose

The purpose of this activity was that the Crown wished to move from the Māori practice of joint customary ownership to the European practice of individual ownership. The reason for this was to make land ownership more certain (from a settler perspective) and this provided confidence that prospective purchasers were dealing with the legal owners of the land.

The 1.3 million hectares of Māori land that remain today are the remainder of those original Crown Grants that have not been sold to non-Māori ownership or have not been converted to general land by its Māori owners.

Application to LINZ

Section 129 provides for a number of different types of status of land. From a LINZ point of view, the status of land will only change from Māori freehold land to general land upon registration of an Order of the Māori Land Court.

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