Sunday, February 04, 2007

Tricky Treaty

Jeez, you can tell Waitangi Day is almost upon us. It's a regular Treatyorama out there. I've just settled into the hobbit hole after witnessing the Treaty Debate at Te Papa featuring Doug Kidd and Peter Graham earlier this week. Skimming the blogs and this whammy at Public Address hits. Of course, I have to go wading through Bill English's Chapman Lecture. Next week it's Judge Durie and Colin James for another go, and I'm shagged already.

I never had these worries living in Oz. No land hassles. The Abbos are fucked. The Cronullas won. The Abbos are tucked out of sight, out of their minds on whatever aromatics they can find up in York Peninsula, with their men beating the shit out of each other and raping anything that moves. The cops aren't much better.

But here in the only homeland I know, things aren't quite so amorally clear cut. There's this Treaty of Waitangi hanging in the foyer of Te Papa, in all its forty-foot raggedy-arsed glory. It's the only paperwork these clans have to prove they didn't give all their shit away for nothing. This shit is finally getting settled. Given the proper prodding and funding, all claims could be settled in, say, 20 years. So said Chief Judge Joe Williams at last year's Treaty Lectures.

It's still tricky work. What's going to happen about the Wellington land claims will be a case in point. There's still the internecine sniping between hapu that the greater iwi have to contend with. And that's just the Maori Party MPs. Man, were they counting on that extra seat. Now they'll have to work for it.

Yes, there's also the small matter of all the families who didn't sign it. Even the ones that are on it are moot. This from Edward Jerningham Wakefield's Adventure in New Zealand, first published in 1845:

"[Rauparaha] concluded by calling himself 'the king of the Maori'. He asked 'What right had they to want to tie his hands? As for Wikitoria,' he said, 'never mind that - woman," was what he said; but with an accent, an intonation, and sneer, which gave the word its most insulting meaning. I have already said that the language is not rich, and the word wahine, 'woman', is one of those whose sense is qualified by the manner of uttering it.

I have no hesitation in saying, that he then expressed the most infamous term that can be applied to a woman. 'Who is she,' continued he, 'that she should send her books and her constables after me? What have I to do with her? She may be Queen over the white people; I am the king of the Maori! If she chooses to have war, let her send me word, and I will stand up against her soldiers. But I must have room; I must have no white people so near.'

I asked him, whether or not he had not signed a paper to say the Queen was his chief, when Mr Williams brought it to him, and also on board the man-of-war? He turned round sharply and said, 'Yes! what of that? They gave me a blanket for it. I am still a chief just the same. I am Rauparaha! Give me another blanket to-morrow, and I will sign it again. What is there in writing?'


Fully to understand the value of this contract, the circumstances under which it was procured must be kept in view. Captain Hobson's commission was read at Kororareka, in the Bay of Islands, on the 30th January, the day of his arrival. On the 5th of February, he presented the treaty to an assembly of the natives of the Bay of Islands; and on the 6th it was signed by 46 chiefs. On the 12th, he met the natives of the Hokianga; and 56 more chiefs signed the treaty. In March, Mr Shortland, Captain Symonds, and four missionaries, were appointed to secure the adherence of the chiefs of the northern islands to the treaty.

One of the missionaries deputed his colleague, Mr Chapman, and the master of a coasting trader, named Fedarb, to obtain signatures. Copies of the treaty were thus dispersed about the Northern Island. Some of the chiefs refused to sign it; but at last, between the 6th of February and the 3rd of September, 512 signatures were obtained. Of these signatures, upwards of 200 were those of the chiefs inhabiting the peninsula north of the harbour of Manukau and the estuary of the Thames; leaving only 300 to represent the inhabitants of more than three-fourths of the North Island.

There is no evidence whatever that the assent of the powerful and warlike tribes of the interior, in the upper valleys of the Waipa and Waikato, around Lake Taupo and the Rotorua lakes, was ever asked; certainly it was never obtained. The greater part of the signatures were obtained at flying visits, and after one or at the most two interviews. Presents of blankets and tobacco were made to the chiefs who signed; and there cannot exist a doubt that to obtain these presents was with many the motive for signing."

It is a rich irony, then, that the very first tribes to sign look like they will be the very last to settle with the Crown. Ngai Tahu got in early and are mucking away doing their best to build their assets, while the Orkland tribes are still squabbling in court:

"Te Taou says the Crown's Auckland negotiations are with the wrong tribe and that Ngati Whatua o Orakei is an artificially created entity that does not trace whakapapa to the rightful conquerors of the Auckland isthmus. Te Taou's counsel says the Crown's refusal to acknowledge its concerns heightens the need for a decision about whether there should be an urgent Auckland inquiry."
This gives ammunition for the Right Wing wanting to turn back the clock and tear up the Treaty. Well, tear it up a bit more. We are way too far gone the point of no return. The best analogy I can come up with is packing up the wife, kids, dog, luggage and caravan and leaving the Big Smoke on summer holiday. Slogging through the throng of traffic in second gear and putting up with the kids puking in the back seat, picking fights with each other, throwing cowshit at the Rest Areas while maintaining a chorus of "Are we there yet?", finally cruising over the hill to see Tutaenui Beach, and then deciding to turn around and go back to the city.

Secondly, if they shut up and listened to what Maori were saying, they might see something good in it for them. Bill English nearly tripped over this point in his Chapman Lecture speech:

"[Treatyology] asserts that the Treaty of Waitangi underpins a contemporary constitutional partnership between Maori and the Crown (or its agents such as this University), and that this partnership will continue to evolve in the direction of a bifurcated state."
No, not bifurcated. This is not an Us or Them arrangement. There never has been and never will be one nation of Maori. While some pan-Maori organisations have existed, none have succeeded in uniting in a common voice. Let's look at those Maori Party MPs again. Hell, what has the Labour Maori Caucus done recently for that matter?

The future of New Zealand is not a bi-cultural apartheid, but as a singular pluralism. The general feeling I get from mingling with Maori is a very similar vibe I get from everyone else. They want to be left to do their thing with minimal annoyances. "Dear Government, Bugger off. We are all good. If we want your help, we'll ask for it." Of course, the status quo is quite the reverse.

Everything is permitted. That is, everything requires a permit. Need help? Call the police, get a taxi. Oh, and if you try to defend yourself against suicidal machete-wielding maniacs, get a lawyer pronto. Do you know how much justice costs these days? The world that various people want here is roughly equivalent. Fewer lawyers, accountants and marketing executives; more teachers, doctors, artists and scientists. I'm sure Kim Hill would agree. Vroooom! Sounds like bus.

Once again, I digress. The origins of the Treaty of Waitangi are dubious. The phrasing could have been improved upon, the words could actually mean one thing only. Alas, it was not be. This half-arsed legal fiction drawn up by Thicky Hobson and Jesus Williams, representatives of the Crown and Church, got some people to sign this blank cheque not fully comprehending the centuries-long struggle that the Crown and Church had been fighting over land in old Blighty. Yet this scrap of tokenism is the only receipt that some families can wave when the government comes along and pushes over their sandcastles.

A common thread appears in everything, from Judge Joe through to Peter Graham at the Treaty Debates, the kamuatua from Parihaka to Paki Paki, reading between Pita Sharples' words and cadence. They are not looking about them to see what extra pennies they can scrounge. They are looking to the horizon, at what lies ahead and how best to prepare for them and theirs. They are wondering whether this honky Government will help or hinder them, how much they will be left to just get on with things.

At least the whakapapa, iwi, hapu and whanau have something in the way of a rulebook to refer to. My ancestors got fooled in other ways. "Come to Tropical New Zealand!," said the New Zealand Company advertising. "Where pineapples grow on trees and the natives are friendly!" So some of my ancestors packed up their lives into some wooden boxes, spent six months in a boat halfway around the world to arrive in... Wellington. They didn't have enough money left over to skip across to Australia, which the advertising more accurately described.

So, for different reasons, I have some sympathy for "aggrieved" Maori, as well as an instinctive distrust of corporate marketing. I see where Hone Harawira is coming from by calling the Treaty of Waitangi New Zealand's founding constitutional document. I'd split hairs and say it's the closest thing NZ has to a founding constitutional document. If we put our minds together, perhaps we can come up with a better founding document we can all agree on.

What better way to show that Treaty settlements are full and final than to make a new covenant, not between some Maori tribes and the Crown but between all our citizens? Give the Maori what they want, and give everyone else what they want too. Freedom of life, liberty and property; to pursue happiness free from Safety Nazi killjoys and wet blanket bureaucrats.