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Authors Challenge State's Relationship with Mäori

12 April 2005

Authors Challenge the State's Relationship with Mäori

Is it possible to recognise the equally legitimate, often contradictory, claims of indigenous peoples and their colonisers?

In a new book, Roger Maaka and Augie Fleras question the colonial structures of New Zealand and Canada and their states' relationship with indigenous peoples. They contend that there is a need to forge a new constitutional order, based on a framework of 'constructive engagement'. The Politics of Indigeneity: Challenging the State in Canada and Aotearoa New Zealand is published by University of Otago Press.

Maaka and Fleras argue that indigenous peoples are relatively autonomous political communities who are sovereign in their own right. In the book they look at the constitutional history of both countries, what is currently happening to improve the constitutional status of indigenous peoples, and what should happen in forging a post-colonial contract.

The Treaty of Waitangi created a blueprint for living together differently, but nineteenth-century colonialism suppressed Mäori self-determining autonomy. Although New Zealand has begun to right historical wrongs through Treaty of Waitangi settlements and bicultural strategies, Maaka and Fleras believe that the concept of bi-nationalism provides a better model for living together differently in Aotearoa.

Canada is the first state to have constitutionally entrenched a commitment to Aboriginal and treaty rights: an example is the Nisga'a settlement in the interior of British Columbia, established in response to Nisga'a peoples demands for self-government. However, there continues to be political resistance to changing the country's constitutional order.

Maaka and Fleras conclude by pointing out how the politics of indigeneity seek to transform the foundational principles that underpin settler governance by 'constitutionalising' indigeneity and 'indigenising' the constitution.

About the Authors Roger Maaka, Ngäti Kahungunu and Ngäi Tahu, is Head of Native Studies at the University of Saskatchewan, Canada, and former Head of Mäori Studies at Canterbury University. He is available for telephone interviews. Augie Fleras, a Canadian of Lithuanian descent, is Professor of Sociology at the University of Waterloo, Canada, and was formerly on the staff of the Sociology Department, University of Canterbury.


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