Celebrating Waitangi Day

Next Thursday we have a public holiday to “celebrate” 180 years since the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.  Unlike the USA which every July 4 celebrates the Declaration of Independence without reservation, Kiwis have mixed feelings about the meaning of our national day.

Some Maori believe they still haven’t got justice.  Many non-Maori feel threatened by Maori claims for what is seen as “extra rights”.  They are not prepared to say what they think because they fear being demonised like the Hobson Pledge group, which quite rightly is concerned about undermining the integrity of our democratic fabric.

This is a pity because it was a remarkable event – a powerful colonial power elects to negotiate a treaty with the chiefs of the indigenous population, instead of simply declaring it a colony and establishing direct rule.   This contrasts with Australia where the indigenous Aboriginals were treated as virtually irrelevant.

The extraordinary failure of our education system to teach New Zealand history for at least 50 years, is the major reason why so many are often confused and bewildered.  Hopefully this will be in part remedied by Government plans for all schools to teach NZ history.

However I expect this process will be controversial in itself as there are many histories.   I don’t have much confidence the Ministry of Education will produce a balanced history curriculum, but that is not a good enough reason to continue mass ignorance of the population.   It will be a bumpy process, but it is a journey that must be made.

In the meantime it would be great if everyone feels they can participate in public discussion without the fear of being slagged off in the media, particularly social media.   My own thinking has evolved over the last 40 years, but below is a note I wrote 15 years ago, which I stand by today.   Considered responses invited.

“The essential elements of the Treaty (Property rights, citizenship and sovereignty) should be honored because that is the right thing to do.  However the Treaty should not be seen as blueprint for government policy for the following reasons:

  1. The documents are not robust enough. The various versions contain significant differences which means there was no true meeting of minds and explains why there has been so much debate about its meaning.  It is a moot point whether all Maori signatories understood fully the term “government” in the sense of sovereignty.  (See the English translation of Article One of the Maori version.)  It should be noted also that some Maori chiefs signed the English version and some did not sign at all.
  2. Society has changed in ways that make some aspects of Article two less relevant today. Maori Chiefs do not have anything remotely resembling the role and authority they had over members of the tribes in 1840.  Maori and “Pakeha” (i.e. everyone who is not Maori) are increasingly intermingled racially and culturally.  While many Maori and non-Maori Kiwis will identify themselves as one or the other, many also see themselves on a continuum – somewhere between “Maori” and “Pakeha” or non-Maori.
  3. New Zealand has become a democracy with all that implies in terms of individuals being equal in the eyes of the law but also the importance of respecting the views of minorities and protecting their rights. Trying to build a society on the basis of an imperfectly drafted minimalist treaty would be like governing on the basis of the Old Testament, the Koran or the original version of the American Constitution, which did not give the vote to women or Afro-American slaves.

The Government should

  1. Complete as soon as is practicable the historic Treaty claim process.
  2. Ensure that all New Zealanders are treated equally in the eyes of the law but that the interests of Maori and other minorities are also protected.  The partnership concept is a creation of the Court of Appeal and the Treaty Industry.  It is not mentioned in the Treaty and is not consistent with democratic principles.
  3. Actively assist those less advantaged.  In achieving this goal the government may use non-government agencies, including Maori agencies, to deliver education, health and social welfare services.
  4. Recognize and help nurture Maori culture and language because it is the indigenous culture of New Zealand, not just because of the Treaty.
  5. Protect property rights.  However it should also be accepted that from time to time the Government has considered it necessary to qualify or remove these rights in the national interest, as evidenced by the Public Works Act, mining legislation and the RMA.   An issue to be addressed in each case is whether compensation to the affected party is appropriate.”

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