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Sharples: He Iwi Kotahi Tatou - We Are One

28th Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Regional Conference

Parliament Buildings, Wellington

Thursday 17th August 2006; 11am

Dr Pita R Sharples, Co-leader, Maori Party


On the 6th of February 1840, Te Tiriti o Waitangi was signed between representatives of Queen Victoria and Maori chiefs of Aotearoa, New Zealand.

The Treaty was to allow for the establishment of a Westminister Government in New Zealand in return for the protection of Maori tribal authority over their lands, fisheries, forests, treasures and culture. It also extended to Maori the full status and rights of British citizens.

The Treaty was to be in effect, the first immigration policy document in this nation’s history - and was in fact a prescription for English immigrants to come and live together with Maori, and to share this country.

The Treaty of Waitangi also provides the basis for all other cultures to have a relationship with the first inhabitants of this land, tangata whenua.

That the Treaty has not been fully honoured by past Governments is not a matter of dispute at this time. In fact this claim has been made by our current Prime Minister Rt Hon Helen Clark.

What is a matter of considerable debate however, is the relevance of the Treaty of Waitangi to today’s times.

Some New Zealanders (most of them in this House!) believe that modern laws have now superseded the references, the promises described in the Treaty.

A large proportion of Maori society, however, and increasing numbers of other New Zealanders, believe that the Treaty is the basis by which Maori (as a first nation people) agreed to share their islands with the settler government - and therefore should be promoted in a New Zealand constitution as the father or mother of all other laws.

They see the Treaty as the “rock” which underpins all laws and regulations.

Treaty rights are not racially-based rights, but are rights based on political authority and political relationships.

Indeed, the Treaty is not about race privilege, it is about political relations - an enduring compact.

In 1840 after the signing of the Treaty, Captain Hobson representing the Crown in the Treaty was attributed with saying to Maori - “He iwi kotahi tatou”, meaning - “Now we are one”.

It is perhaps timely that we examine this pronouncement in terms of today’s society in New Zealand to see - if we are indeed united as one - or perhaps as some commentators have thought - we consider ourselves to be one people - but then what does “one people” mean?

It is not my intention to review our country’s history since 1840 but rather to consider these questions in the light of current social and political indices of our society’s health.

To begin with, Maori can be easily identified as a distinctive group today. A cultural renaissance initiated in the 1980s has successfully promoted Maori political and cultural structures within New Zealand.

Recognising the distinctive cultural occupation of these islands for around one thousand years, Maori are driven to preserve their identity (language and customs) in the belief that:

- This is the only home for Maori,

and secondly that:

- Maori values and models can be applied universally for the benefit of all in this land. Our models are drawn from Te Ao Maori, the Maori world, and offer values that will ensure that we create our tomorrow in the best interests of Aotearoa - in the best interests of all our grandchildren.

However, as with many other first nations people who have been subjected to Western colonisation, Maori are over-represented in the negative social statistics.

Disparities exist between Maori and non-Maori in terms of educational achievements, such as tertiary qualifications, length of time in formal educational programmes, professional training.

Maori are disproportionately represented in unemployment, welfare beneficiaries, prison numbers (over 50%), low incomes, appalling health statistics, poor housing, and in literacy and numeracy.

There is no doubt, therefore, within New Zealand society that Maori have a high visibility as a distinctive group both in a positive sense as well as negative.

It is my opinion that:

New Zealand cannot move forward as a nation without full Maori participation and involvement at all levels with positive outcomes, on the one hand and conversely, Maori cannot flourish as a separate nation in isolation from the general New Zealand society.

How then, can we in this country move forward, to consolidate strong nationhood while still providing for the growth and development of Maori language and culture?

Perhaps the answer lies in the quotation “He iwi kotahi tatou” - we are united as one.

It is my reckoning that the major political parties of recent New Zealand parliaments including the current one - have a very narrow interpretation of the expression “we are one”.

This interpretation is recognised in the pre-occupation of “one-size-fits-all” policies and the use of such terms as “level playing field” - “one law for all” etc.

This view of “one people” by these parties seems to mean “one people - like us” or “be like us”.

It mitigates strongly against the promotion of contemporary Maori cultural values - the values of ‘them’ - the outsider other - the Maori - the one that is different to those whose values are norm, the mainstream - us.

Our language (English) our laws (Anglo Saxon) our customs (Anglo Saxon) our culture (Anglo Saxon).

For example, the Labour Government of last term recognised the disparities between Maori and non-Maori and put in place the resources to implement a programme initiated by National - a programme called “Closing the Gaps”.

Gaps were identified and measures (including funding) to address these disparities were introduced. However, when the National Party opposition turned around and labelled such programmes as “racial funding”; or “special privileges”, the programmes were cut! Thus the disparities remain and in many instances are growing larger.

I contend, here, that there are a myriad of reasons which would justify the deliberate funding of programmes to close the gaps - not the least of which is contained in the theme of: “Our nation moving forward into the future with everybody on board”.

We recall the foundation of the Treaty - which was about preserving and protecting the unique sovereignty of Maori - but also about basic citizenship rights: All the rights and privileges of British subjects.

Funding should be designated purposely to those areas where Maori can be seen to be under-achieving.

Maori solutions such as kaupapa Maori education should receive equal funding, and equal advocacy and resources to support Maori language initiatives.

Maori cultural institutions which have survived the ravages of colonisation, should be funded to restoration in accord with recognising Maori cultural activity as bona fide New Zealand cultural capital.

The plain fact is that despite over 160 years of colonisation - Maori still want to be Maori.

It would seem to me that honesty and integrity with regard to our countries stated goals in achieving justice, and equality, demands that immediate financial redress be provided towards achieving equity in our society. Laws and practices of equality can only apply where there is equality in the first place.

As Nelson Mandela has said:

“It is difficult to negotiate with those who do not share the same frame of reference”.

If we are able to recognise and come to have a shared view of this political document called “The Treaty of Waitangi”, as our shared frame of reference, then, and only then, can we perhaps say - “He iwi kotahi tatou”.


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