The history of the Māori Trustee and
Te Tumu Paeroa reflects the history of Māori land itself over the past 90 years.

It also reflects the changes in legislation and Crown attitudes to Māori land ownership over that time.

Early years: From customary to individual ownership

In pre-European times, Māori land was communally owned, based on the traditional system of Māori customary law. Following the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, two methods were used by the Crown to obtain Māori land: Crown acquisition and, after the passage of the New Zealand Settlements Act 1863, raupatu (confiscation).

By 1862, roughly two thirds of New Zealand, including most of the South Island had been acquired by the Crown.

In 1865 the Native Lands Act and the Native Land Court (renamed the Māori Land Court in 1947) were created to settle conflict relating to the sale of land to settlers.

The Act allowed the creation of individual land titles (in place of customary communal title) that were the custom in English law. The transition to individual title resulted in further sales of Māori land.

The Native Trustee Act

Many early settlements made provision for reserves to be set aside for owners from each sale.  Many of these reserves were then put under the administration of the Public Trustee who in many cases, entered perpetual lease arrangements.  Although intended to benefit both owners and lessees at the time, later on, perpetual leases came to be seen as another mechanism for alienating Māori from their land.

In 1920 the Native Trustee Act established the Native Trustee and Native Trust Office. All native reserves that had been vested in the Public Trustee were vested in the Native Trustee and money held by the Public Trustee for native reserves was transferred to the Native Trustee.

The Native Trustee could issue mortgages on freehold or leasehold interest in Māori lands. The Native Trustee's role expanded beyond the administration of reserves and estates into a major administrator of Māori land.

In 1932 the Native Trust Office and Native Department were amalgamated. The Native Trustee lost its autonomy and in 1947 the Native Trustee, Native Trust Office and the Native Department were renamed the Māori Trustee, the Māori Trust Office and the Department of Māori Affairs respectively.

The 1950s and 1960s

During the 1950s and 1960s there were major reviews of Māori land legislation. The legislation began to focus on protecting Māori land from alienation and the Māori Trustee was given added responsibility for administering Māori land.

In 1952 the Māori Land Amendment Act abolished the Māori Land Boards and transferred their functions to the Māori Trustee. This meant the Māori Trustee took over leases formerly administered by the Māori Land Boards. The Trustee now had access to greater revenues but also a greater obligation to accept administration of properties that had limited uses and were encumbered with unpaid rates or with a severely fragmented title.

In 1953 the Māori Trustee was further integrated into the Department of Māori Affairs although it continued as a separate office of the public service. The Māori Trustee and Deputy Māori Trustee were appointed officers of the Department of Māori Affairs (now Te Puni Kōkiri).

Under scrutiny - 1980s and 1990s

The late 1980s and early 1990s saw a major review of Māori land, and in 1993 Te Ture Whenua Māori Act was passed. The Act focussed on keeping land under Māori control and ownership. The Act said Māori land should be recognised as a taonga tuku iho (a treasure handed down) of special significance to Māori. It also recognised that the land should be retained for the use and benefit of its owners and their whānau.


In 2007, Te Puni Kōkiri conducted consultation and discussion through Māori communities about the future direction of the Māori Trustee.  This resulted in the 2009 Māori Trustee Amendment Act retaining all the powers of the Māori Trustee and making the organisation that supports him/her a standalone organisation independent of government, also called "Māori Trustee".

Te Tumu Paeroa

On June 7, 2013, the Māori Trustee organisation became Te Tumu Paeroa.  

Te Tumu Paeroa is led by the Māori Trustee and administers 100,000 hectares of Māori owned land on behalf of nearly 100,000 owners.

Te Tumu Paeroa - History