The Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand (PCANZ) has reached a milestone decision to offer any future church-owned land for sale to Maori iwi first. This comes as PCANZ reckons with its colonial past and seeks to build even stronger relationships with tangata whenua (people of the land).

PCANZ is a big landowner in New Zealand, with an estimated $1.5 billion in assets, including more than 400 places of worship. Much of their land has been acquired through land sales and gifts, but other areas are thought to be inherited from the Crown who confiscated land after the New Zealand Land Wars.

“By the year 1900 the Presbyterian Church was the biggest denomination in the country so clearly we have a role in this, and in the history of colonisation in Aotearoa New Zealand,” said PCANZ Moderator Right Rev. Hamish Galloway.

“We’ve been on the other side of history as a church, but this time, we’re taking a different stance and have decided issues like justice and the treaty, and honouring the Treaty and our Māori partners (are important),” said Rev Dr Wayne Te Kaawa.

The church has returned some land for free, including land at Maungapōhatu belonging to the people of Tūhoe.