Cook Islands Land Tenure System To Be Taught In Schools

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Chiefs hope young people will be prepared to preserve system

By Florence Syme-Buchanan

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, Jan. 22, 2016) – By giving an opportunity for Cook Islands land tenure system to be a research topic of the existing NCEA Cook Islands Maori Language programme, students will be able to gain NCEA credits and an understanding of the unique way land issues are dealt with by the Land Court.

This is the vision of traditional chiefs, the Koutu Nui, who believe preparing young Cook Islanders for the time they become landowners by providing them knowledge about how the complex land tenure system works will be empowering for future generations.

Koutu Nui president Terea Mataiapo Paul Allsworth says the motivation to see land tenure taught in schools arose last year during Vaka meetings to discuss the legal fraternity practice note which discussed a number of land issues.

Terea Mataiapo says it became obvious during the meetings that many people were uninformed and had serious misconceptions about the country’s land system.

"This included many of our senior citizens who have held these misunderstandings all their lives, resulting in these misunderstandings being passed on from generation to generation."

Terea says if young Cook Islanders can be taught about their own land tenure system, it will make them better caretakers and family representatives of the land.

"It can only help protect our land for Cook Islanders."

Adds Terea: "What we found out during our Vaka land meetings on Rarotonga, was that there was a general lack of knowledge and understanding of our complicated land tenure system, such as what is an occupation right, a lease, a vesting order, ways and means to change land laws and other land provisions.

"The question is, if we don’t know, then how will our children know, who will next inherit and live on our lands?"

Education’s Townsend welcomes the proposal of the country’s land tenure system being included, saying it can be used as one of the themes that students may study as part of their NCEA programme.

"The programme is already accredited and teachers and students have a range of topics that they can particularly research.

"For them to use land tenure, one of the things we need to follow up is the resourcing of information that teachers would need for students to be able to do the work to the required level."

Additionally, the Ministry of Education can support the sharing of this knowledge in the shorter term through its community education programmes for people in the wider community.

"If Koutu Nui can provide the expertise, the CITTI community education programme assist with the provision of classroom space and resource support."

The Koutu Nui wants to help boost the existing secondary school NCEA reo Maori programme by strengthening the subject at the first level, primary schools.

Working with Education, the traditional body would like to add to the current annual primary school Cook Islands culture and history competition using the theme of "Toku Ariki, Toku Marae e Toku Matakeinanga, e Karere kite Ao" which focuses on pupils knowing and understanding their culture and heritage, says Terea.

It’s envisaged this would be done through pe’e, tuoro, turou (plays, chants and oratory) knowledge of marae, tribal roots and connection to aronga mana.

"By staging this, all Cook Islands students in primary schools will know and understand their heritage and roots".

This, says Terea, will raise the pupils levels of cultural awareness and sense of identity, of who they are and where they come from.

"Our cultural identity is kept alive and secure for the future."

He says already the House of Ariki and Koutu Nui have leading tumu korero (orators) and taunga (experts) in these specific areas that will assist and supervise this project along with the Education ministry’s Maori language and cultural advisers.

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