Use of the New Zealand foreshore: Oral evidence of Maori rights in Otago
In New Zealand, the presumption that the Crown is the owner of the foreshore can be displaced by proof to the contrary. Rights to possess, use, and access the foreshore are thus not clear in relation to Maori coastal land, because the doctrine of aboriginal title recognises the continuity of tribal property rights, in the absence of extinguishment or abandonment. The continued existence of Maori use of the foreshore is a powerful sign that aboriginal title has not been extinguished. These principles were applied to the foreshore area of Otakou Maori Reserve on the Otago Peninsula, for which there is no evidence that the Crown ever acquired title. Oral evidence was obtained from Maori to establish that they continue to access and collect sea resources from the foreshore of the Reserve, and suggests that some aspect of aboriginal title continues to be valid. This methodology has implications for other tribal coastal reserves in New Zealand, and for tribal groups in countries where aboriginal title applies. The study also serves as a nexus between the acquisition of indigenous knowledge, the analysis of land use policy, and the empowerment of people.