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Fortuin: Nationbuilding and The Treaty

Nationbuilding and The Treaty – Time To Seek Agreement


By Gregory Fortuin – former Race Relations Conciliator

Thursday 13 October 2005

In my first speech as Race Relations Conciliator I said that we would not flourish as a small nation in the South Pacific unless we were one sovereign nation united in our desire to collectively deliver on our dreams and aspirations. For that to happen a major challenge is to robustly but respectfully debate and agree the place of The Treaty of Waitangi in our 21st Century democracy.

Of the many responses I remember the proverb by Mai Chen who said “don’t wake up the dog unless you are prepared to walk it”. My response then and now is that “this dog” has been awake and barking for a long time. Just because some of us have had our ears and eyes closed and others have had their heads in the sand the challenge of The Treaty has always been around.

When the Race Relations Office first came into being over 30 years ago, the majority of complaints were from Maori against “Pakeha”. When I presented my last report to Parliament as Race Relations Conciliator in 2002, the majority of complaints were from New Zealanders of European descent against perceived preferential treatment of Maori.

We have seen the rise of two key phenomena. On the one hand, Many Maori have come to the conclusion that they cannot put their trust in “Pakeha” institutions and the Foreshore and Seabed Hikoi on Parliament saw the birth of the Maori Party. On the other side of the divide some “Pakeha” politicians sensed that “Pakeha” who account for over 70% of the voting population felt “it was about time somebody stood up to those damn Maori”.

The proof of this 2nd phenomenon was the incredible support for Don Brash following his “Orewa Speech”. Also of note were the responses of two moderate Maori descendants. Winston Peters called Brash “a colonial tea planter who wants to tell the servants what to do” and Chair of the Fisheries Commission Shane Jones said “the days of old white men telling Maori what to do is over”. Neither Peters nor Jones are extremist or supporters of the Maori Party.

Both phenomena were reflected in the latest election results. Tariana Turia has astounded the pundits with not just her own victory but also returning with four times as many staunch mates. Brash on the back of the initial Orewa momentum has almost doubled his Party’s votes. Hopefully we are now going to be compelled to confront the Treaty of Waitangi and our future constitutional arrangements as well as the bi-cultural identity of our nation

Two key questions were posed during the election campaign. The 1st was from most party leaders as to what sort of nation we wish to be and the 2nd was from Winston Peters to Pita Sharples “Is Maori part of the Crown”? Both excellent questions deserving of considered and informed debate. My views are pretty clear. We are 2 primary Islands with many complimentary Islands BUT we are 1 country.

By the same token the 2 primary peoples with many complimentary peoples must become 1 Nation. We don’t have to be clones of each other but we are inextricably linked. What we need is harmonized diversity; many strings on one guitar making music together. The challenge is to develop the single hymn sheet.

Maori are not just another ethic group in this great country. They are the First Nation People. There is no other place in the world where their culture, language and traditions can be nurtured and exercised. The Crown recognized them as Tangata Whenua in 1840 and Article2 of The Treaty guarantees them “exclusive and undisturbed possession of their lands and estates, forests, fisheries and other properties”. I would encourage those who wish to diminish Article2 to merely “property rights for all” to consider (i) this was a Treaty (ii) between fiercely independent Tribes and the Crown (iii) in an 1840 setting 5 years after the declaration of independence (iv) where Maori constituted 98% of the population and the Settlers a mere 2%.

We must also not confuse the issue of our national identity with ethnicity. Officially we have a bi-cultural identity, although I suspect we pay lip-service to things Maori, e.g. if we genuinely have two official languages could I write a cheque in Te Reo Maori and have it cashed with a smile at any bank? If we are going to progress towards one nation, is it smart that only the Settler language is “mainstreamed”? Why are we then surprised that this leads to separatism?

A key message at the recent tourism conference from the Editor in Chief of National Geographic was for New Zealand to capitalise on its indigenous point of difference. It is interesting that when Kiwis go overseas and have to differentiate themselves from the rest of the world they resort to the Haka or sing Pokarekare Ana. However embracing our indigenous identity too often gets left at customs as we re-enter Auckland International.

On the other hand Maori must understand (and many do) that many New Zealanders of European heritage are 4th and 5th generation Kiwis. This is Home. There is no other home to “go back to”. Also, as I said to my friends Tariana and Ken over kai 10 years ago “the reality of today’s Aotearoa is that we have moved on and become a far more integrated society – for all its nostalgia it will never be 1840 again”. New Zealand has as rich a Settler history as it has an indigenous one. This is where two societies collided.

It is also an undeniable fact that the social fabric of our society is multi-ethnic. Not with standing its many challenges, this diversity has enriched our nation and resulted in many benefits. The key to harmonised diversity is simple and found in the USA Constitution “all men and women are created equal”. That should translate into mutual respect for each other based on our common humanity where no one is more equal than anyone else.

I recognize the courage of past and present “Pakeha” Prime Ministers on either side of the political spectrum for embarking and continuing on a path of healing the wounds of the past and building a future together. I also salute the critical roles of many wise old Kaumatua and Kuia without whose support progress would have been impossible. It is now time to go the next bold step and seek agreement on sustainable constitutional arrangements that will endure no matter who’s in government or what ever happens to our demographics.

A small and focussed Nationbuilding Commission co-led by lets say the Rt Hon Jim Bolger and Prof Whatarangi Winiata tasked with developing and leading a Plan-of-Action for Nationbuilding might be a start. Doing nothing is not a viable option. If you are going nowhere then any road will get you there. It is time to seek agreement on an inclusive vision and boldly map the way forward.


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