Waitangi Day will set the stage for heated debate over Māori policies


Robust discussions between the Government and Iwi leaders will take place on Waitangi Day (Facebook Photo)

Venu Menon
Wellington, February 5,2024

As New Zealand’s national day approaches, the three-party coalition government braces to face an avalanche of hostile sentiment from iwi leaders.

Waitangi Day on February 6 will be an occasion to celebrate, as well as remonstrate, as  Māoridom unites to assert its identity which it perceives to be under threat from the new government.

In what might be described as a dress rehearsal for the main event, Prime Minister Christopher Luxon, along with an entourage of government ministers who included ACT leader David Seymour and NZ First Minister Shane Jones, met iwi leaders in Kerikeri on February 2.

The iwi leaders closed ranks, as they did at the recent hui at Ngāruawāhia and Ratana, around the government’s policies targeted at Māori,  in particular ACT’s proposed bill to review the Treaty principles, NZ First’s bid to reform the Waitangi Tribunal, the dismantling of the Māori Health Authority, and repealing the ban on oil and gas exploration.

The din of the discussion between government and iwi around those contentious issues will reach a crescendo on Waitangi Day as party leaders and their caucuses are welcomed to the Waitangi Treaty grounds amid ceremony, followed by robust debate.

The Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840. Since then, it has been at the centre of national discourse in New Zealand. It has spawned numerous acts of Parliament, court rulings, reports by the Waitangi Tribunal (set up in 1975), and acts of government.

At the core of the Treaty is Article 2 which extends Crown protection to Māori ownership of their whenua [land], kainga [homes], and other taonga [treasures].

Michael Heard, a lawyer versed in Treaty of Waitangi issues, argues ACT’s proposed Treaty Principles Bill “at its heart involves an apparent misunderstanding of what Article 2 means.”

ACT’s referendum proposal is based on the interpretation that the guarantees under Article 2 of the Treaty extend to all New Zealanders.

The confusion stems from the fact that there are two versions of the Treaty of Waitangi, one in English and the other in te reo Māori.

The majority of Māori chiefs signed the Māori text, as per a recent report by 1News.

But the Māori text differs from the English one. For instance, Article 1 of the English text says Māori ceded sovereignty to the Queen of England. But the Māori text recognises only the Queen’s governorship.

In other words, Māori lay claim to self-determination, which appears to be backed by the landmark Waitangi Tribunal ruling of 2014.

Again, Article 2 of the Māori text bestows absolute ownership on Māori of their land, homes and taonga.

Some experts argue the sole Māori ownership over taonga includes all treasures, tangible and intangible.

Article 3 of the Māori text provides that Māori are on a par with Pakeha as regards rights and privileges.

But Peter Adams, author of the book “Fatal Necessity,” which deals with the Treaty of Waitangi period, suggests the “obligations undertaken in good faith” that sit at the heart of the Treaty of Waitangi have not been honoured by the Crown.

“Māori were concerned about being cheated out of their land and about the uneven application of laws. Their faith and confidence in British authority dissipated rapidly, while the settlers thought Māori were being unduly favoured. In London, there was confusion over what land Māori owned and pressure to undercut the Treaty’s core promise,” Adams wrote in The Post.

The British insisted that “pre-emption in Article 2 of the English text meant that the government would be the sole buyer of the land, whereas te Tiriti spoke only of sale and purchase at an agreed price.”

Governor William Hobson was instructed to “buy cheap, sell dear and finance colonisation on the proceeds at no great cost to the Crown,” according to Adams.

But despite the breaches of good faith through its history, the Treaty of Waitangi has survived. The Waitangi Tribunal, the Treaty settlement process and the Court of Appeal have come to the rescue of Māori.

Prime Minister Luxon has provided himself some wiggle room by pledging support for ACT’s proposed bill to the select committee stage in Parliament, on the calculation that it will run out of oxygen by then.

But to many Māori, reviewing Treaty principles is in itself a provocation and a perceived threat to their cultural identity.

Venu Menon is an Indian Newslink reporter based in Wellington

 

 

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