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Tariana Turia: The Treaty And NZ's Constitution

Otago Museum, Thursday 3 February 2005

'The Treaty and New Zealand's Constitution:
reversing the shadows'

Tariana turia, Co-leader, Maori Party

Ngai Tahu, Ngati Mamoe, Waitaha, tena koutou. E nga iwi e huihui nei, tena hoki koutou.

Tena koutou kua tae mai nei ki manaaki i te karanga o tenei po.

It is entirely fitting that this debate is held tonight, on the first day that the special parliamentary select committee has met to consider 'Constitutional Arrangements'.

And it is not without a certain sense of irony that I congratulate the organising committee of Ngai Tahu's celebrations for Waitangi Day, in having the courage to bring together five different political parties, and equally diverse politicians, to discuss this issue of such constitutional significance to our nation.

The irony lies in the fact that for some unknown reason, those who established the parliamentary committee did not consider the Maori Party could make a useful contribution to this debate.

For despite the consistent and passionate call from our people to give expression to Te Tiriti o Waitangi, despite our determination to reconcile kawanatanga and rangatiratanga, despite our declared commitment to build on Te Tiriti as a tool for developing a stronger sense of nationhood, we were not invited to the table.

Instead the select committee consists of four Labour, one Act, one United Future, and one Green Party politician.

The Maori Party finds itself lurking in the shadows, removed from the debate on the issue which we believe is fundamental to our growth as a nation.

So we looked forward to the opportunity provided tonight to debate with such an enlightened audience, the core to our constitutional legitimacy, Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

The Maori Party believes firmly that ultimately, real change, substantial progress in understanding the foundation of our nationhood, will come from outside of Parliament's chambers.

It must come from you and I, from us all owning the Treaty, and taking responsibility for honouring it today and in the future.

In this respect, we commend the foresight displayed by the Youth Parliament in 2000, who reported:

We consider that the constitutional status of the Treaty must be addressed before the wider republican debate can properly be embarked upon. We also strongly believe that it is the voters of New Zealand who must decide whether New Zealand should become a republic, not Parliament alone.

And so it is, to the voters of New Zealand, that we turn in considering the place of the Treaty in a written constitution.

The Maori Party's position with respect to Te Tiriti o Waitangi is unequivocal: it is a cornerstone of the constitution of this land. As such, it and its parent document, the Declaration of Independence 1835, have pivotal roles to play in the maturing of our nation.

Central to our growth, must be the opportunity for comprehensive discussion led by the citizens of Aotearoa.

New Zealanders have had enough of government-led inquiries.

Look at what happened over the last 18 months, in the infamous attempt by the Government to hold a process of discussion with the people about the Foreshore and Seabed Bill.

You will recall that the Waitangi Tribunal issued a "primary and strong" recommendation to the Government, that they should

"go back to the drawing board and engage in proper negotiations [with Maori] about the way forward".

And the rest is history.

It could well have been different - if we had been given the space to recognise and respect the distinctiveness our different cultures bring to this land.

Such a space in time, would have enabled us to survive and grow as a nation. It would have been fertile soil to then plant the seeds of connectivity and unity symbolised in the Treaty.

As we have talked with New Zealanders about the status of the Treaty, they have told us they want to know more about the documents - and their subsequent interpretations - which have influenced our national story.

As an example of such learning from our past, it is useful to reflect on the comments ascribed to Nopera Panakareao, a Rarawa chief. At the signing of the Treaty, Nopera said in respect to the Governor Hobson:

"the shadow of the land goes to the Queen, but the substance remains with us".

Yet a year later, the complete antithesis occurred:

The substance of the land would pass to the European and only the shadow would remain with the Maori people

The project thus, for our times, is to delve deep into the shadows of our past, to understand our constitutional beginnings. What was it that caused Nopera Panakareao to doubt the veracity of his earlier claims? How did the actions of the colonial government unsettle the acts of faith made by the signatories to the Treaty?

Looking back in time, enables us to move the constitutional position forward, to understand why it is that Sir Robin Cooke, the then President of the Court of Appeal said of the Treaty:

"It is simply the most important document in New Zealand's history".

He went further to note....

"a nation cannot cast adrift from its own foundation. The Treaty stands".

At the time of the signing of the Treaty, Maori outnumbered Pakeha settlers by an estimated forty to one. Faced with these odds, it is highly unlikely that Maori would have willingly agreed to the unconditional transfer of their authority to the newcomer minority.

Moana Jackson is one of many commentators that have suggested that instead, tangata whenua in signing the Treaty, were continuing their own tribal jurisdiction over their affairs.

"For our people, signature of the Treaty of Waitangi could never cede the sovereign authority of our people handed down from our ancestors. No matter how powerful or respected a Maori leader, he or she could not give away the sovereign authority of their people.

It was entrusted to the living to care for those who are yet to come. As a gift from our ancestors, it was both spiritually incomprehensible and legally impossible to even contemplate giving it away."

It is our firm belief that the intentions of our ancestors, the gift of all our ancestors, in signing the covenant of trust, was to create a pact which would flourish into a relationship of equals.

A relationship which would continue to thrive and develop, in light of changing circumstances of our world.

It was in the exchange of promises between our peoples, and the consequential obligations and responsibilities, that we had a prescription for a successful state of nations.

The Treaty is a forward looking document, it is constantly evolving over time, and should be seen as the key source of any government's moral and political claim to legitimacy in governing the country. It is therefore, as the Privy Council stated,

"of the greatest constitutional importance to New Zealand".

We cannot cast ourselves adrift, from our own foundations - relegating ourselves into the shadows of an unknown future.

We owe it to our ancestors, to our forebears, tangata whenua and other New Zealanders, to enact their vision of a nation where our peoples would have status and respect.

Exactly ten years ago, the first of the three legendary Hirangi hui called by the Paramount Chief of Ngati Tuwharetoa, Sir Hepi te Heuheu, was held to explore the role of the Treaty within a New Zealand Constitution.

The first recommendation of that hui held on 28-29 January 1995, is a conclusive way to shape the debate tonight. The hui reaffirmed, as the basis of tino rangatiratanga that:

'The Treaty of Waitangi is the Constitution of New Zealand'.

It is time to walk proudly from the shadows of political skepticism and derision. We must take up the call as citizens, to talk together about our future, based on the strength of our beginnings. We can live by a relationship of honour, of integrity, of diversity.

Restoration of such a relationship as was anticipated by the Treaty, is the greatest challenge in front of us. It is a challenge we can take up, together.

Na reira, hui noa i te whare, tena koutou, tena koutou, tena tatau katoa.


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