Digging in to Te Tiriti o Waitangi

a young man walks across a field. Rain clouds scud across a dark sky.
Ka mua ka muri

This post seeks to answer some questions from the learning I am doing through Tātai Pūmanawa. I will always have the voice of my friend and colleague Maria Tibble in my mind as I consider Te Tiriti o Waitangi and what it means to me, the people with whom I work and the way that I interact and live my life in Aotearoa, New Zealand. I can feel her looking over my shoulder, I can picture her smile and hear her voice. Her passion was infectious. So, I will try to honour her as I grapple with the questions and my jumbled thoughts.

Who would hold power after the Treaty was signed?

It seems clear from the articles of Te Tiriti that power would be shared equally; Kāwanatanga, Rangatiratanga, Ōritetanga but if we look at the history of colonisation by Britain, it is clear that the aim was to extend or retain its authority over other people or territories. The aim may have been initially to open trade opportunities but Britain also sought to benefit from the countries it colonised. The underlying sense of superiority that the British had contributed massively to the way that Māori and other indigenous populations in Australia and Canada were treated. The Church which had a powerful presence in Europe, it was at the cutting edge of colonisation across the world and it contributed and legitimised the actions of colonising powers. In “Healing our History” (Consedine & Consedine p.68) there is a quote from a J.M. Blunt; “A missionary might have great love and respect for the people among he or she worked, but would not be expected to believe that the culture and mind of those non-Christians was on a par to that of Christian Europeans.” Whilst the negative impact of colonisation on indigenous populations had been recognised in Britain, and ideas were beginning to change about colonisation the need to protect trade and British economic interests was stronger.

With those mindsets, how could the idea of shared power ever become a reality?

Did the Treaty create new rights for Pākehā people? Did it create new rights for Māori people?

‘New rights’ or any rights? In theory, Te Tiriti formalised or set out a framework for governance and the way that Māori and Pākeha lived together with shared rights and responsibilities. In theory all Māori men had the right to vote by 1867, in practice there were so many conditions that they couldn’t. As long as Māori were seen to be inferior in terms of their intellect, their ways of interacting, working, living, communicating, their beliefs then their rights would be compromised.

What important things does the Treaty say Māori will keep?

Rangatiratanga: Māori would maintain independence and control of lands and all that is important to them. My interpretation of that would be that Māori maintained their taonga – their language, culture, stories, tikanga, beliefs and the values upon which their way of life was based.

However, in 1907 New Zealand government passed the Suppression of Tohunga Act which banned Māori traditional healers and religion. This Act meant that Māori knowledge with respect to medicine, the environment, the arts and links between spirituality and secularity was disregarded and not recognised. It was not repealed until 1962. This sort of approach amounts to systematic cultural genocide. George Tinker, American historian suggests this as a definition for cultural genocide;

What impact did the population of Pākehā and Māori have before and after the Treaty was signed?

At the time of the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, Māori outnumbered Pākeha by 200,000 to 2,000. The Māori economy was strong, communities flourished, traded internationally and had a sophisticated socio-economic system. Following the signing of the Treaty immigration to Aotearoa, New Zealand boomed. The conditions that ensued, the way that Māori were treated and the impact of that on their way of life, their economic status, the diseases that were imported with the new settlers to which Māori were immune all led to a steady decline in the population.

Linda Tuhinui Smith says in respect to the promises that were not kept by the colonisers which were enshrined in Te Tiriti o Waitangi;

“Indigenous populations may have survived colonisation but the impact on their social, political and economic systems is huge.”

Words on the entrance to Rangiriri Pā

Is partnership the same as collaboration? Or consultation? What could Tiriti based partnership look like at CORE?

I believe that partnership means that we have a shared understanding of what our vision for the way our world should be and the way that we interact within it. When I think about my conversations with Maria I remember her fierceness and her absolute belief that her mokopuna should live in a world that recognised – not just recognised, celebrated, respected, revered and absolutely empowered them to know their whakapapa, to practise their beliefs, use and develop their language, to reach their potential and go beyond it. But she was also open to seeing things from different perspectives and acknowledging that the history of Aotearoa, New Zealand is a shared history. We shouldn’t blame the descendants of settlers for the wrongs their tipuna committed. We should encourage them to know the real history of Aotearoa, New Zealand, support them in understanding what happened and why and empower them to own the history. Vincent O’Malley says in the foreword of his book, The Great War for New Zealand, that the stories need to be told and heard if we are to reconcile ourselves with the past, we need to understand it and freely acknowledge it so we can move forwards.

The Waitangi Tribunal commented: “While only one side remembers the suffering of the past, dialogue will always be difficult. One side commences with anger and the other side has no idea why. Reconciliation cannot be achieved by this means.”

For us at CORE and indeed in all our kura and our nation as a whole, we can only work in true partnership if there is recognition, acknowledgement, empathy, understanding and forgiveness of what has happened in the past so we can learn from it and move into the future together.

Further questions I am still pondering;

If we are thinking about working in partnership with tangata whenua, ask yourself what you might know about tangata whenua. Does your own world intercept with the Māori world? If so, to what extent? What is Māori ‘worldview’? What is different about Māori culture to your own culture? If your culture was a ring, and te ao Māori was a ring (picture a venn diagram) how would the two worlds meet?


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