Treaty of Waitangi

My father came from England, as did my mother's father. With our young children, we spent a weekend on a "marae". It wasn't a real marae - the idea was our church became a marae for the weekend, and that would help us learn more about Maori things. When we did simple language lessons, I was first in the circle and the leader spent some time trying to get me to pronounce the first couple of words. Then he changed direction so I was last in the circle and he didn't make me try endlessly to say them. It reminded me of lessons at school trying to get me to sing in tune. I concluded that I wasn't part of Maori, so gave little further thought to things Maori. I've been uncertain what to make of the Treaty of Waitangi. It didn't seem to have much to do with me - except perhaps to help fund a gravy train for some.

As with many things, 2015 saw a change in my understanding. Most Kiwis (Maori, English or from another people group) don't understand the implications of the treaty. That's not to say that I do either - but I'm starting to see more than I have before. If you've never read it before, you can do so at Treaty of Waitangi. For such a significant document it's incredibly brief. I'm sure if it was being signed today there'd be pages, not to mention armies of lawyers on both sides.

An obvious issue with the Treaty is there are two versions - an English version and a Maori version. Cynics suggest that the English were being crafty in this - but I don't think so. I'm no historian - and to be honest, I'm glad. History is generally recorded by the victors - and is distorted by their perceptions. When we do get history from the losers' perspective, it too is distorted by their perceptions.

It seems that this was a genuine attempt to set out a platform for a peaceful basis for a  nation of two people to develop. There were difficulties apart from language. For a start on one side we have the English, complete with concepts of nationhood, politics, and so on. On the other have Maori did not have a united voice - even the Declaration of Independence five years earlier related to relatively few tribes. Many (mainly pakeha?) claim this was superseded by the Treaty. This is just another example of why there is nothing simple in coming to a united position of who we as New Zealanders are.

Not all Maori agreed - just as not all English settlers agreed. It is relatively simple to identify the monarch's representatives - although politicians today still ignore the Treaty when signing agreements like TPPA. But who are the native chiefs and tribes? For the sake of (relative) simplicity assume for now it does include all Maori - although there are other views on this.

Language is always a key issue. I've expressed some thoughts on communication, but using different languages adds a whole level of complexity. We commonly assume when we translate words we also translate meanings. But this is often not quite the case. We assume a meaning is the same - when in fact there is a subtle difference in nuance - or worse a major chasm. In this case, some words and concepts didn't exist so they made use of the nearest words they could think of. That magnifies the difficulty in understanding issues that arise.

When we think of the Treaty most think of a document from our past - irrelevant today. This is magnified by perceptions about the Waitangi Tribunal. We think that once we've settled "old grievances" we can return to "normal".

Newsflash: the Treaty is still in effect today. It's not primarily about addressing the wrongs of the past. I'm not saying wrongs were all one-sided. I'm not fluent in Maori - either the language or the people - but the English did some abysmal things. Such names as Parihaka show how "civilised" we behaved. We see horrors committed by ISIS, and cannot make sense of them. I like to think the things done by the English were in a different league - but sometimes I wonder. In the chaos around two peoples in one new nation, there were abuses by both sides. As one who identifies with the English side, I only comment on their behaviour.

We Pakeha have much to learn from Maori. An obvious example is family. That might seem strange since we hear so often in the media about child abuse being disproportionately a "Maori" problem. I suspect it is more a factor among those who, as a result of their loss of identity, have become half-way people - neither Maori nor Pakeha. That may just be my Pakeha perception - and even if right it is only a generalisation. The fact is family life among Pakeha is a shadow of their Maori counterparts, and we should learn from them. Then perhaps as we hear each other we can really work together as one nation.

Recently there has been the prospect of eliminating the Maori seats. This is hard to say - but the article I most agreed with came from a writer across the ditch. His name is not Maori, and he's at an Australian university, but votes on the Maori roll. His arguments about why Maori should be the ones who decide on their future makes sense to me.

 

Last Modified

Last modified: 28 November 2020.