It’s easy to think the Treaty of Waitangi is something only lawyers need to think about. But that’s a mistake. It relates to all of us and is always going to be part of our lives. Today I hope to explain why.
The Treaty sets the bar for how New Zealanders acknowledge and respect each others’ differences. While it was written 175 years ago, it remains as relevant today as it did then. Both signatories respected each other’s cultures enough to acknowledge them formally in a ground-breaking Treaty. They accepted their societies were different but shared a common vision of a country populated by two peoples living together in harmony.
Things didn’t work out that way. Maori society was nearly decimated by colonization and the effects of that are still visible today – in the loss of confidence and self-esteem that comes from not having a secure identity, and all the social and economic consequences that follow from that.
The damage to Maori society caused by colonization has been partially acknowledged. Up until now breaches of the Treaty have been resolved by agreed settlements between tribes and successive governments over land and cultural treasures, with a pittance of financial compensation thrown in.
Some of you may think that there is no need to talk about the Treaty once all the historical grievances are settled by the land and financial packages. But you’d be wrong. The Treaty’s vision of a society where there is mutual respect between distinct cultures has still not been realized. We have plenty of work to do. That reality was illustrated clearly here in Orewa in 2004. I am returning to that day 11 years ago because I believe the views expressed then, by the then leader of the National Party Don Brash, are still held by many New Zealanders today – particularly pakeha. And I want to explain why I think those views – summarised by the catch all phrase “we’re all New Zealanders now” is simplistic and a red herring.
So simplistic in fact, that it is a view that holds NZ back, it denies many Maori the chance to prosper in this land, and by denying Maori we all are missing out. It is not the case that what is good for Maori is bad for someone else – in complex societies like ours when one group improves their lot it has positive spin-offs for everyone – we don’t live in a zero sum world where what is good for Maori must be bad for me. Rather, there is a win-win here if we are honest enough to finish the job.
For example, when kids from Otara escape poverty to become university-trained GPs, engineers, accountants, compared to their being trapped in poverty as adults, the rest of NZ spends less on welfare, less on prison, less on police, less on health, less on suicide prevention. But not only that – the country as a whole has access to more GPs, more engineers, more human capital driving our economy. That’s a win-win.
There is even strong evidence that something as basic as building greater levels of trust and reciprocity between Maori and non-Maori is sufficient to improve economic performance, health outcomes, reduce crime rates – across ALL of NZ. The benefits aren’t just for those at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder, everybody benefits. It’s not easy to build higher levels of trust – that’s really hard – but it’s where NZ needs to be heading.
Let’s talk a bit more about what happened here 11 years ago.
In his 2004 speech to the Orewa Rotary Club, National Party Leader Don Brash outlined his interpretation of where treaty matters stood and where we were headed with them. It was an historic moment for Dr Brash the politician, as that speech in essence garnered a significant increase in voter support for the National Party. There was, as you may all know, a public outcry at the remarks, and many in New Zealand confirmed strongly that they would not tolerate such views from its leadership. But for significant numbers of National Party voters, the Brash rhetoric was a welcome dose of conservatism.
Today I’d like to bring a different message to Orewa – having spent the last 5 years working on a project entitled, “Are we there yet; the future of the Treaty of Waitangi” – and having made a number of speeches based on that study on marae lately, I thought it opportune to come to Orewa and provide a perspective on the Brash ideology that exposes it as a harsh, intolerant view of anybody who is different to oneself. That introversion found appeal in the NZ electorate and in 2005 under his leadership National took signifcant seats from NZ First, ACT and United Future. While in the end, the Brash rigidity and intolerance led to his political self-emolument, the adherents to Brash-think are a significant strand of NZ society and a roadblock to progress on treaty matters.
By dissecting that Orewa speech of Don Brash’s we can see why.
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Don Brash – The topic I will focus on today, is the dangerous drift towards racial separatism in New Zealand, and the development of the now entrenched Treaty grievance industry. We are one country with many peoples, not simply a society of Pakeha and Maori where the minority has a birthright to the upper hand,
For me this indicated that Dr Brash found the process of breach, claim, validation, negotiated settlement just too much to bear. He didn’t accept the enormity of the crimes committed on Maori nor the intergenerational damage that still exists. He despised those involved in bringing the grievances to the Tribunal, despite that being a process that the government required for justice to be done, even though Maori have had to accept compensation amounting to a few cents in the dollar. He sees Maori being allowed even this right of redress, as them somehow getting an “upper hand” by virtue of their birthright.
For the leader of the next government to be speaking like this in the 21st Century is very difficult to fathom, but something we pakeha at least should not forget – that we still have a faction in our midst that see acknowledging culpability, providing Maori even token restitution, and enabling Maori space to re-establish their own identity and pride – is giving Maori the “upper hand”. This faction of pakeha is clearly filled with fear and loathes the fact that Maori has its own practices, traditions, institutions, and language that have just as legitimate status as any others later imported to this land.
Next classic from Dr Brash
… Let me begin by asking, what sort of nation do we want to build? Is it to be a modern democratic society, embodying the essential notion of one rule for all in a single nation state? Or is it the racially divided nation, with two sets of laws, and two standards of citizenship, that the present Labour Government is moving us steadily towards?
….. Over the last 20 years, the Treaty has been wrenched out of its 1840s context and become the plaything of those who would divide New Zealanders from one another, not unite us.
Dr Brash clearly sees it as impossible for New Zealand to honour the treaty, to give both societies the right to equal fulfillment of their aspirations while preserving their traditions, institutions, culture and language. The whole post-1975 treaty resurrection is to him a disaster, that instead we must see ourselves as all one people – New Zealanders – and to do that must exclude the right for any ethnicity, or specifically the indigenous one – to be able to keep its identity. His is a world where national citizenship is sole definition of who a person is.
With Don Brash-think there is simply no room for New Zealand to honour the treaty – as we all know a relationship established when pakeha were outnumbered 40 to 1, and had no standing army to impose colonization upon Maori by force. Hence the treaty of co-existence.
But for Dr Brash that treaty is to be ignored, assimilation is the programme, cultural difference is to be ignored, all cultures in New Zealand are to be subservient to some sort of contemporary homogeneity, not surprisingly made in his own image. Under this view there is no legitimacy for developing any government institutions that are empathetic to anything but the dominant Westminster-originating culture now.
One fatal flaw in his argument is that this same Westminster-originating government has an agreement with Maori, ratified by the British and by successive governments. It cannot be simply ignored away as Dr Brash and his fellow thinkers might wish, the issue of recent times is how is it to be fully honoured. Thankfully, all politicians of any substance or rank – with the exception of Dr Brash and the ultra conservatives within ACT and NZ First’s support base – accept that totally, and have been working hard to give effect to that undertaking. The destructive denial of Don Brash – while it may well linger in some of the darker recesses of pakeha thinking, is not an accurate depiction of where pakeha New Zealand overall, is on this matter.
When it comes to how we see and identify ourselves there are many building blocks. Ethnicity is one of those important blocks – alongside nationality or citizenship (New Zealander for most of us), profession, religion, location, personal history, gender and so on. Identity is multifaceted. Personally I am 100% welsh blood, but born and bred in NZ so consider myself a New Zealander. My wife is 5th generation here and our grandchildren who of course we love dearly, have ancestry that includes Portuguese, Chinese, Ngapuhi and Nga Tahu. We want those children to be able to grow up fully acknowledging their origins and particularly their links to the indigenous people of the land in which they are born and belong.
Sir Tipene O’Regan described this plurality of identity wherein we can each be many things, most eloquently;
“On this issue of identity, I think we get far too precious about coming to a conclusion as to whether we’re one thing or the other… we are in fact all sorts of things in different situations. I am Maori but I am also Pakeha. I am Ngai Tahu, which makes me Maori. My roots are in Te Waipounamu which makes me southern. I am a citizen, which makes me a New Zealander. On almost any issue I will, at different times, call on one or more of these ‘identities’…”
The Brash world is one where the only source of identity that is acknowledged is our citizenship, that we are New Zealanders. There is no acknowledgement of the rich cultural capital that strengthens and supports us, it’s as if highlighting the one (ethnicity) undermined and replaced the other (our citizenship). That is tragically one-dimensional view that omits the essence and huge importance of culture and ethnicity. We can be, we unavoidably are, citizens of New Zealand, but each with our own relationships to specific ethnic traditions. It is not as he suggests, a case where we are all New Zealanders to the exclusion of anything else.
Now back to the treaty (and for that matter the 2007 UN Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples) and the specific right that Maori have to see their culture, institutions, practices and language have the same status as that of the other treaty signatory. On this I can find a little bit of common ground with Dr Brash.
His words were,
In parallel with the Treaty process and the associated grievance industry, there has been a divisive trend to embody racial distinctions into large parts of our legislation, extending recently to local body politics. In both education and healthcare, government funding is now influenced not just by need – as it should be – but also by the ethnicity of the recipient.
The Nelson-Tasman Primary Health Organisation is a good example: PHOs are explicitly established on a racial basis, and the Nelson-Tasman PHO is required to have half of the community representatives on its board representing local iwi, even though the number of people actually belonging to those local iwi is a tiny fraction of the population covered by that PHO
Much of the non-Maori tolerance for the Treaty settlement process – where people who weren’t around in the 19th century pay compensation to the part-descendants of those who were – is based on a perception of relative Maori poverty.
Maori-ness explains very little about how well one does in life. Ethnicity does not determine one’s destiny.
In line with his deep distaste of the treaty being an agreement to underpin the well-being of two quite distinct societies, Dr Brash reverts continually to using race as his descriptive rather than the more accurate depiction of the relationship the treaty defined – one that ensures the mutual benefit of two societies. For this country, after the tragedies in colonization efforts elsewhere, the British rejected the concept of overrunning Maori society and forcing assimilation.
Sadly for New Zealand, Brash-think, which lives on in some parts of pakeha society, starts from a position where New Zealanders should not be differentiated by ethnicity, that in essence ethnicity is unimportant here, that ‘New Zealander’ is somehow a new substitute ethnicity. From that starting point, the holders of such a view cannot comprehend how anyone without their values, traditions and customs can consider themelves a “New Zealander”. From this self-centric perspective on what a New Zealander actually is, there follows a deep denial of people with any other profile being true New Zealanders.
Such folk are tragic, our cross to bear, suffering from total confusion between ethnicity and citizenship, let alone either denial or ignorance of the treaty obligation. They are, as I have said, ignorant.
Considering that the number of this group – those without any links to a particular culture – is rapidly falling as a percentage of the overall population, then there are grounds for optimism. They are indeed a dying breed. The major achievements already within our schooling system to support and nurture children’s links with their own ethnicity as well as the bicultural nature of New Zealand, can only be seen as a huge advance since the 1975 renaissance.
As the 2013 Constitutional Review Panel said, educating the media continues to be a challenge, one must give credit at least to the increasing respect – in all but the backwaters of redneck talkback – to efforts to integrate te reo within daily conversation. Very few refer to “Mt Egmont” still, confirming that education of us all is possible, eventually. The fact that children can already sing both language parts of our national anthem is again confirmation that educational change will mainly spread from the children outwards.
Let’s return to Dr Brash’s distaste for Maori over-representation on delivery agencies like the PHO in Nelson-Tasman. Ironically I have a similar concern but for very different reasons. There is no doubt Maori and for that matter Pasifika are over-represented in the ranks of the socio and economic disadvantaged. Even correcting data for age and income, that over-representation persists, albeit for these two groups in different areas of disadvantage.
Next, it is pretty well established that such a discord arises because of dislocation between the person and their ethnic group, or between their ethnic group and the social service delivery agencies of health, education and justice. In other words it is very important that a child has a strong link to the culture, traditions, institutions and language of the group which their parents are part of. It is not uncommon for them to have this in the home but no further, it is also common for youth and adults that have severed their links with their own cultural or ethnic community, to be displaced. All this points yet again to the immense importance of ethnic identity – as the international literature tells us emphatically, but which Brash-think perversely denies (except his own centric view of the world of course).
This is recognized in New Zealand, and is why we employ affirmative action or positive discrimination toward Maori in particular (both because of the treaty obligation and the sheer numbers). Now I don’t like the fact we are having to do this more and more, when instead we should have in place delivery services in health, education and justice that are totally empathetic with the values, customs, traditions and language of the recipient. This is a major challenge in a multicultural society but through devolution is possible. Further when it comes to the indigenous society in New Zealand, it is an obligation.
If we fulfilled our obligation to effective delivery of social services to Maori we would not need the affirmative actions of Maori seats of parliament, Maori wards in councils, Maori quotas in education, and so on. So I don’t want these persisting any more than Dr Brash does – but for totally different reasons – not because I think every New Zealander should be a facsimile of him, but rather because I want to see the treaty hard-coded in our constitution.
Our next reference from the hapless Dr Brash;
There are a few radicals who claim that sovereignty never properly passed from Maori into the hands of the Crown, and thus ultimately into the hands of all New Zealanders, Maori and non-Maori. They are living in a fantasy world.
I wonder how the poor Dr and his ilk are handling the recent Ngapuhi finding by the Waitangi Tribunal. Indeed it’s not just Ngapuhi of course, any tribe that signed the te reo version of the treaty (90% of the signatories) didn’t cede sovereignty via that route.
All this finding does is leave us the task of agreeing how sovereignty did indeed pass, if in fact it has. This is a fascinating challenge that faces us all and from it can only come benefits for us all with respect to defining who we, the New Zealanders, actually are.
The view from historians I have heard is that sovereignty has passed, and it passed over the course of more than a half century as hapu and iwi slowly but surely accepted the British system of justice as a far superior to their own conduct – cannibalism, infanticide and tribal wars. By accepting the jurisdiction of the colonizing power’s justice regime, sovereignty passed. Anyway that’s all I’m sure, up for confirmation or not over coming months and years.
The Brash lack of comprehension of the treaty principles is arguably the most stark confirmation of his ignorance on the treaty.
Since 1987, and especially since 1999 when the current Labour Government took office, governments have included references to the “principles of the Treaty” in legislation, still without defining them. Even the Cabinet Manual now states that Ministers must specify whether proposed bills comply with “the principles of the Treaty”. It doesn’t define those principles either.
The principles are well-defined by the Courts and the tribunal and while not without their problems, they represent the efforts to contemporize the treaty for use in today’s NZ society. Of course if you don’t accept the treaty as being relevant today – the Brash view – then yes, they are a frustrating development that has made life difficult. But neither government, nor the Courts accept the view that today the treaty is irrelevant.
What are the principles he detests so much?
- The treaty was a solemn exchange – Queen was to govern, chieftainships and possessions were to be protected
- Principle of partnership and partners have to act reasonably and in good faith
- Crown’s duty to remedy past breaches
- Crown’s duty to actively protect Maori people
- Crown is free to govern
- Crown has a duty to consult – this principle is not well defined as to where that consultation ends
- Development principle – not yet well bedded down but is at least a recognition that Maori lost not just raw, unimproved resources but the opportunity cost of developing those resources
Dr Brash’s confusion around these simply reflects a lack of enquiry. His, is not an uncommon situation for laypeople, but rather lacking for a leader of a major political party.
One last taste of Brash-think
Our definition of ethnicity is now a matter of subjective self-definition: if you are part Maori and want to identify as Maori you can do so. The Maori ethnic group is a very loose one. There has always been considerable intermarriage between Maori and Pakeha. Anthropologists tell us that by 1900 there were no full-blooded Maori left in the South Island. By 2000, the same was true of the North Island.
In spite of the heightened rhetoric from the publicists of ethnic difference, most people treat their ethnic allegiances fluidly. For many people, aspects other than their ethnicity matter much more to them – their religion, their profession, their sports club, their gender, and their political allegiance.
Of course Dr Brash is correct on one matter, ethnicity is only one aspect of a person’s identity. Precisely what Sir Tipene O’Regan also said. The big difference though is this does not make it unimportant and make the assimilation or subjugation of ethnic identities Brash so strongly desires, a requirement. New Zealand happens to have signed a treaty to protect and nurture the ethnic values of Maori – and we happen to have heavily breached that undertaking. We are in the middle of the process of making good on that – the point Brash is in total denial over.
Enough of Brash-think. So where to now?
The Constitution is the current topic, we need to be all on board the discussion around how we embed the treaty principles into that, so NZ can move forward and we can meaningfully make progress on reducing socio-economic disadvantage for Maori – not by taking from pakeha (the Brash paranoia), not at all, but rather by simply recognising the right for Maori society to thrive under our constitution. It is a win-win for bicultural, multicultural New Zealand.
Conclusion – Thankfully, the National government-appointed Constitutional Review Panel has said in 2013 that we need to educate New Zealanders on the role of the treaty and particularly provide professional development for the media. I would suggest that this is urgent, that the scar on the progress being made to get the treaty embedded in its rightful place in our constitution by the Don Brash-type thinking – which clearly had significant currency amongst many active in politics, otherwise how did he ever get to be leader of the largest political party in this country – was a direct result of the ignorance amongst pakeha that I spoke of in my speech at Ratana.
The need for education remains strong as the Review Panel has reiterated just over a year ago.