On 6th August the Morgan Foundation will launch a video exhibition and online collection called “Talk Treaty”. The video collection is based on interviews with many well-known New Zealand personalities – Maori and non-Maori – talking frankly about the Treaty and issues related to it. The founding principle of Talk Treaty is that every view is welcome and respected. The goal is not to preach a particular point of view but to provide a safe, inclusive space where people can share their views whatever they might be.
In 2014 the Morgan Foundation published “Are we there yet? the future of the Treaty of Waitangi”. An important conclusion we came to in Are we there yet? was that New Zealanders needed to discuss the Treaty of Waitangi more. The Treaty is being increasingly applied in the day to day business of local and central government, but to a large extent this is happening behind the scenes, out of public view. But ultimately how the Treaty is to be interpreted and applied is a decision the public as a whole has to come to, Maori and non-Maori working together to decide, not the courts and not Parliament. None of the arrangements made by politicians and the courts will be enduring if the wider public are left out of the process.
We tried to think of a way to help the public get to grips with the constitutional evolution that is happening and so we created the Talk Treaty project. Only by talking together can Maori and non-Maori discover what’s important to each other and what each aspires to. That understanding is essential given the task ahead – designing the arrangements by which we govern ourselves as a society with an indigenous people and considerable cultural diversity among non-Maori.
But there is another benefit from Maori and non-Maori talking together in the context of the Treaty too. By talking together we learn more about each other and that builds trust and respect. Societies with high levels of trust and respect perform better on all economic and social indicators.
When the Treaty was signed in 1840 it created a society where cultural difference was acknowledged and respected. But what does “progress” in a society made up of distinct and equally valued cultures look like and how do we deliver it? We explored these issues in depth in “Are we there yet?” and one conclusion we came to was that New Zealand should be focusing far more on social connectedness.
How connected people are in a society made up of diverse cultures – how much “social capital” there is – matters a great deal. The connectedness – which can be measured objectively by looking at things like levels of trust and willingness to help strangers – impacts significantly on a country’s economic performance and is reflected in social outcomes such as levels of crime, youth suicide and family violence. An important point is the benefits of living in a well connected society are enjoyed by everyone, not just those who are personally closely connected to friends, family and their community.
Social capital is an important engine of economic growth, every bit as important as natural resources, foreign investment and innovation. It can be built up and destroyed just as physical capital can. Yet social capital seems, almost without exception, to be overlooked in New Zealand. When it has been monitored New Zealand has been found to have exceptionally high levels of social capital. But we could find little in the way of in-depth New Zealand research to inform us about whether we’re successfully building social capital over time or destroying it. If we don’t value, monitor and protect our social connectedness we could lose this essential resource – something which gives us an edge on the rest of the world – quietly, without anyone really noticing.
So another key goal of Talk Treaty was to explore this idea of connectedness particularly in the context of Maori-Pakeha relations. We asked our interviewees how they see themselves. We talked about te reo. We asked how people navigate cultural differences at work and home. We talked about experiences of discrimination and poverty. We asked what people loved about New Zealand and what they’d change. And of course, we asked about the Treaty, what it means, and whether it remains relevant today.
It has been an enormous privilege to spend time with our 60 interviewees. We hope you’ll enjoy watching the Talk Treaty conversations as much as we enjoyed participating in them.
Susan Guthrie is an economist at the Morgan Foundation. She has co-authored two books with Gareth Morgan – one proposing tax and welfare reform for New Zealand (‘The Big Kahuna’) and one exploring constitutional evolution in New Zealand (‘Are we there yet? The future of the Treaty of Waitangi’). She is team leader on the Talktreaty project, a collaborative video project involving some of New Zealand’s most well-known personalities talking openly about identity, cross-cultural differences, disadvantage, discrimination, the Treaty, the constitution and moving forward. www.talktreaty.org.nz coming 6th August.