I never thought that there would come a day when I would join a political party. To go beyond an occasional supporter and voter to a fully fledged paid up member. But several discussions over the past few days culminating in the opportunity to be involved in the development of policy in an area that is my main focus in life, has led to a change in heart. I have been sitting on the sidelines for a long time, occasionally sticking my head up to criticise or critique, sometimes rationally so – others embarrassingly angrily. Since turning 30 several months ago I have become more aware of the need to take the knowledge and expertise that I have built up over the past decade and transform that into something of value. Something that is going to make a difference. Sitting on the sidelines may one day lead to meaningful change, but I know there is far greater prospects of, for lack of a better cliché, making a difference by putting my hand up and doing the mahi!
The NZ Herald are running a series of opinion pieces in the lead up to the 175th anniversary of the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Over the course of this week they are running two articles I have written providing my overview perspective. Today’s piece is on rangatiratanga, and what it means to me.
As we approach the 175th anniversary of the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi it is appropriate that we take the time to reflect on the lessons we have learned since 6 February 1840, and set a path for a future which honours both the Maori and the Pākehā parties to Te Tiriti. Today, I discuss what rangatiratanga means to me, and what Māori are doing to achieve it.
The idea of rangatiratanga is that as Māori we are in charge of our land, our resources, and our aspirations. Only 6% of New Zealand remains as Māori land, with confiscations and land purchases of a dubious nature amounting to the gradual transfer of resources from Māori to British settlers. This has been a one way transfer of wealth. Entire regions, such as Taranaki and the Waikato, were confiscated from Māori in the 1800s without compensation. That these two regions are among the highest value dairy producing regions in the world is an indication of the wealth that has been stripped out of Māori communities. It cannot be disputed that our nation’s wealth was built on the back of stolen land. The settlement money paid to Māori – some $2bn over twenty years – is only a fraction of a percent of the value of the loss suffered by Māori.
Rangatiratanga is not about carving out a set of “unique political rights” for Māori. It is about ensuring that our communities are healthy, well-educated, and can live a good life. Prior to British settlement, rangatiratanga was all encompassing. Rangatira were responsible for the health and wellbeing of their hapū, and had abundant resources to provide this. The loss of wealth has destroyed the ability of the hapū, or more commonly today the iwi, to provide for the health and wellbeing of its members. Large populations and small asset bases means that Iwi have to be more creative, and more selective in how they assist.
Rangatiratanga is a practice. It is about Māori living according to our tikanga, and about striving wherever possible to ensure that the homes, land, and resources guaranteed to us under Te Tiriti o Waitangi are protected for the use and enjoyment of future generations. My main focus is on assisting Iwi and Māori-owned land trusts to grow their economic wealth to continue to pursue rangatiratanga through development. Progress, while slow, has occurred over the past twenty years and the Māori economy continues to grow. Iwi, driven by historical settlement packages, are delivering returns to their members through the provision of grants to Marae, Hapū, and for educational purposes. The larger Māori land trusts are also becoming more innovative in their business development and the successful Miraka milk processing venture is a sign of things to come.
This increase in economic wealth provides Māori communities with opportunities that were previously unavailable. With increased economic wealth comes the opportunity to develop the skills and wealth of Māori, to improve the health and wellbeing of Māori, and the ability to revitalise traditional cultural and customary practices. Economic wealth provides Māori communities with the opportunity to develop their community in accordance with their own vision, not a vision of Māori communities imposed by the Government.
Our aspirations are no different to anyone else’s. We want good schools, good homes, good health, and good jobs. We do not seek special rights to the detriment of Pākehā New Zealand. We ask for the recognition of the rights that were guaranteed to us under Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Rights such as the right to have a say in how our communities are governed and how the resources and sites sacred to us are managed. The recognition of these rights through, for example; the Māori electorates, Māori wards on local government bodies, and the co-government arrangements established to manage a growing number of our national parks and waterways is precisely what Te Tiriti o Waitangi envisioned – a true partnership between Māori and Pākehā.
The NZ Herald are running a series of opinion pieces in the lead up to the 175th anniversary of the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Over the course of this week they are running two articles I have written providing my overview perspective. Today’s piece is on the meaning of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the role of the Waitangi Tribunal.
As we approach the 175th anniversary of the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi it is appropriate that we take the time to reflect on the lessons we have learned since 6 February 1840, and set a path for a future which honours both the Maori and the Pākehā parties to Te Tiriti. Today, I discuss the meaning of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the role of the Waitangi Tribunal.
There are plenty of myths surrounding Te Tiriti o Waitangi. There are not, for example, two versions – one in English and one in Maori. It is important to remember that those who did sign, predominately signed Te Tiriti o Waitangi – a text written entirely in Te Reo Māori. The differences between the Māori “Te Tiriti” and the English “Treaty”, especially the difference between kawanatanga and sovereignty, have come to cause a lot of debate. For the Rangatira at Waitangi and elsewhere who signed Te Tiriti, they were never asked to cede their sovereignty to the British. Te Tiriti was sold to Māori as a co-governance arrangement. The British would look after their settlers, and Māori would continue to look after their hapū. Māori did not cede sovereignty under Te Tiriti o Waitangi. This is established. Our desire to continue to exercise our rangatiratanga will be addressed in another article.
Te Tiriti provided three distinct set of rights:
- The right of the British to govern the British settlers who had taken up residence;
- The continued existence of rangatiratanga by Māori over their homes, lands, and resources; and
- The right of Māori to be treated no differently than British by the British Crown.
The Waitangi Tribunal was established in 1975 to address the grievances of Maori arising from breaches of Te Tiriti o Waitangi by the Government. The Tribunal process, while much maligned, is an institution that we as New Zealanders can be immensely proud of. Each report provides a rich analysis of our history and the often damaging effects of the settlement of New Zealand. There is nothing “creative” or “novel” in the Tribunal reports. They are grounded in 40 years of jurisprudence on the meaning of Te Tiriti and the rights that flow from it.
There is often confusion over the role of the Tribunal, and its seemingly pro-Māori stance. The Tribunal is tasked with determining whether Crown action has been in accordance with Te Tiriti o Waitangi and, if not, what recommendations should be made to redress the situation. The idea that the Tribunal only speaks to one of the two partners to Te Tiriti, as mentioned by Gareth Morgen last week, is nonsense. Both Māori and the Crown actively participate in Tribunal processes, and hearings are an ongoing debate and discussion between the two parties.
Any recommendations of the Tribunal need to be debated and legislated by Parliament before they can become law and history shows that Parliament has often ignored the recommendations made by the Tribunal. It forms one part of the debate around Crown-Māori relations and our constitutional framework, but it is by no means the only institution discussing these issues. The Tribunal does not create “unique political rights”, it interprets how the rights guaranteed to Māori have or have not been upheld. We live in a representative democracy and the Tribunal is one of many bodies providing recommendations to the Government on policy and constitutional issues. Law changes continue to be enacted through Parliament and the legitimacy of all the specific rights reclaimed by Māori over the past 40 years is grounded in the legitimacy of the ruling Government.
For Māori, the Waitangi Tribunal is part of the healing process. It provides a space for us to tell our history. To be heard. I have seen elders in tears after presenting evidence to the Tribunal because for them it is the ultimate way of honouring their ancestors. I hear many pākehā speak of their desire for us to simply move on, to get over it, and for us to move forward as one country. I long for the day when we can peacefully co-inhabit New Zealand as one, but this day will not come until Māori have had our grievances heard and addressed.