According to Māori customary law, land was originally communally owned. After the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840, the Crown obtained Māori land by acquisition and, after the 1863 New Zealand Settlements Act, raupatu (confiscation). By 1862, the Crown had acquired roughly two thirds of New Zealand.
Conflict over land saw the creation of the Native Lands Act and the Native Land Court in 1865. This introduced individual land titles – to replace customary communal titles – and resulted in further sales of Māori land.
A lot of these early land settlements included reserves set aside for owners from each sale. Reserves were generally put under the management of the Public Trustee who, in many cases, filed perpetual lease arrangements.
The early 1900s
In 1920 the Native Land Court shifted its focus from the acquisition of land to helping Māori develop their surviving land. The Native Trustee Act called for better provisions for the management of Māori land. The Act established the Native Trustee and Native Trust Office.
All native settlements (including money reserves) entrusted to the Public Trustee were transferred to the Native Trustee. The Trustee's role expanded beyond handling reserves and estates into being a major governor of Māori land.
In 1932 the Native Trust Office and Native Department merged, and the Native Trustee lost its autonomy. The government amended all official references of "Native" to "Māori" in 1947 with the introduction of the Department of Māori Affairs.
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 additional responsibility to manage Māori land.
The Māori Land Boards were abolished in 1952, and their functions were transferred to the Māori Trustee. The Trustee now had access to greater revenues, but was also laden with unpaid rates and properties with severely fragmented titles.
The 1953 Māori Affairs Act allowed anyone to apply to the Māori Land Court if they could prove there was fertile Māori land not being put to good use. This legislation remained in effect for 40 years. At the same time, the Māori Trustee and Deputy Māori Trustee were appointed officers of the Department of Māori Affairs.
The 1980s to the present
The late 1980s and early 1990s saw major reforms for Māori land, with Te Ture Whenua Māori Act passed in 1993. The Act observed land as a taonga tuku iho (a treasure handed down) to be retained for the benefit of its owners and their whānau.
In 1992 Te Puni Kōkiri, the Ministry of Māori Development, was formed. After consultation with Māori communities, the 2009 Māori Trustee Amendment Act elected to retain all the powers of the Māori Trustee.
An independent organisation was then appointed to support the Māori Trustee in their duties. On 7 June 2013, that organisation officially became known as Te Tumu Paeroa. Today, the Māori Trustee and Te Tumu Paeroa look after 100,000 hectares of Māori-owned land on behalf of nearly 100,000 owners.