So far we’ve identified the achievements of the Treaty settlement and reconciliation process, and flagged that the process is now being pushedbeyond the point of being useful. Let’s turn to how important Maori aspirations can be addressed more effectively and sustainably than the current Waitangi Tribunal process will manage.
We’re clear the conversation about Maori aspirations forrangatiratanga will never be over, and in our view neither should it. Don’t expect Maori to stop asking for change just because historical grievances are settled. This is a conversation without end.
Maori have a partnership with the Crown, making their place in New Zealand society very special. We are one nation, two peoples as we are often reminded. We’re also aware that Maori were grossly assaulted as a people and that assault wasn’t just via land seizure, it included the crushing and marginalisation of Maori society. The damage has been massive and intergenerational, deep and lasting.
Only through working hard on this together, as distinct but connected peoples, will it be overcome.
Post-1975 the Treaty process has made giant steps but restoring self-belief and esteem to Maori requires the aspirations of rangatiratanga to be significantly progressed. As has been discussed, these aspirations of indigenous people are legitimate and recognised under the UN Declaration.
Considering all that has happened since 1840 – the good, bad and the truly awful – the question is: how can we reach the point we’re all proud to be in this partnership?
We have to recognise that a person’s life has many dimensions, and we each have a plurality of identities. Ngai Tahu leader Sir Tipene O’Regan offers this:
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’. Sir Tipene O’Regan
When faced with the challenge of delivering rangatiratanga the Waitangi Tribunal immediately leaps to granting unique political rights to Maori. This divides society along descent lines, really risky given the plurality of identities Sir Tipene discusses. But we can’t let the issue lie just because the Treaty and the tribunal might not be the right tools to deal with them.
We see two ways to progress Maori aspirations to greater freedom and autonomy, and reduce disadvantage, without sacrificing political equality and fairness.
1. Self-determination/devolutionThere’s a whole lot more that could be done to give more choice to Maori, and indeed any New Zealander, by shifting authority from central government to groups and communities. This devolution has the potential to deliver not only freedom and choice, but political equality too. New Zealand has already tiptoed down this path a bit – with self-forming communities being allowed to manage schools and offer primary healthcare services. There’s scope for more.
What’s distinctive about the promising pilot Rangatahi Court is that Maori and Pakeha worlds come together. An alternative to the Youth Court, it allows cases to be heard in community facilities, including marae. Members of the local community are present, with a Youth Court judge presiding. When Maori and non-Maori institutions work together like this, both gain legitimacy. This is how we see devolution working most successfully and effectively: through co-operation not competing and segregated institutions.
2. Addressing disadvantage and, particularly, its ethnic biasOver-representation of Maori in the statistics on socio-economic disadvantage reflects poorly on New Zealand society. But we need to stop framing disadvantage as a Treaty issue. We should deal with disadvantage regardless of race. Other groups are at risk too (eg Pasifika), so it’s just not credible to frame it the way the Treaty industry does. We need to strengthen our anti-discrimination and Human Rights legislation to address ethnic bias in disadvantage.
What we’re clear about, is that neither of the above ideas extend unique political rights to Maori.