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The Price of Citizenship or the Legacy of Promise

Dr Pita Sharples; Co-leader of the Maori Party
Wednesday 2 May 2007; 7pm

“The Price of Citizenship or the Legacy of Promise”

On this day 67 years ago, the 2 May 1940, the 28th Maori Battalion departed overseas.

It was an all-Maori infantry battalion; organised on tribal grounds. Maori looked to the 28th Maori Battalion to raise their profile, and to serve alongside their Pakeha compatriots as citizens of the British Empire.

The whole idea was to represent themselves as New Zealand citizens, a concept for which there was great enthusiasm which explains why by 1943, Mäori were signing up to contribute to the war effort in such large numbers.

Sir Apirana Ngata in his 1943 booklet,The Price of Citizenship, asked

“whether the civilians of New Zealand, men, and women, fully realised the implications of the joint participation of Pakeha and Maori in this last demonstration of the highest citizenship’.

In that same year that Ta Apirana was contemplating the price of citizenship, the Rotary Club of Hutt City was founded. In September 1943, a new Rotary Club was established earning its status as the first Rotary Club in the Hutt Valley area.

A club also founded on the aspiration of citizenship; founded to pursue a commitment to ‘Service above Self’.

And so here we are today – over six decades later – pondering the same question as Sir Apirana asked : what did Maori achieve with the price of citizenship?

I was delighted to accept the invitation to spend some time with the Rotary Club of Hutt City – and to put that question to you.

Did the gallant efforts of the 17000 Maori who took part in World War Two amount to recognition of the highest citizenship?

General Freyburg concluded that :

"No infantry had a more distinguished record, or saw more fighting, or, alas, had such heavy casualties, as the Maori Battalion."

Out of the 3500 who joined the 28th Maori Battalion, 655 paid for their citizenship in blood, and 1949 were wounded or taken prisoner. What was their reward for the passage towards nationhood fought in Cassino, Libya, Syria, Crete, Greece?

A mere thirty-nine Maori pioneers, 1.8% of the force, were assisted to acquire land under the government’s repatriation programme, compared with about 10% of the nearly 90,000 Pakeha soldiers who returned from the war.

Ask yourself: is this how ‘King and Country’ met its obligations to Maori as outlined in Article Three of the Treaty of Waitangi?

I have taken the time to document our shared history over these last sixty years, to unseal the pact of citizenship our forebears have passed on to us – to you and to me.

What can we evaluate to be the impact of citizenship rights enshrined in Te Tiriti o Waitangi?

Some of you may recall a direct descendent of Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth II , articulating her own overview of how far we have come as a nation on Waitangi Day, 1990, when she said:

“Today we are strong enough and honest enough to learn the lessons of the last 150 years and to admit that the Treaty has been imperfectly observed. I look upon it as a legacy of promise”.

I find her insights revealing.

Is the fact that Te Tiriti o Waitangi has been ‘imperfectly observed’ sufficient explanation for the reason that:

 Maori unemployment rate at 11% is three times that of non-Maori;

 Only 34% of Maori school leavers leave with an NCEA Level One qualification compared to 74% of Pakeha;

 Maori die on average eight years earlier than non-Maori;

 The fact that while 74% of Pakeha enjoy the benefit of home ownership only 44% of Maori live in their own home?

Just to name a few….

Clearly not.

The reality of our nationhood in 2007 is that the leadership demonstrated by the Battalion has not resulted in the rewards envisaged.

But Queen Elizabeth II had another interesting challenge in signalling Te Tiriti o Waitangi as a ‘legacy of promise’.

That legacy of promise is the cultural heritage passed on by generations of our ancestors, ancestors who signed a sacred pact to honour the indigenous voice; and to demonstrate faith in the relationship we share.

That legacy of promise, according to Dr Ranginui Walker, may be being re-enacted in the bedrooms of this nation with some 70,000 tangata whenua in a relationship with a partner who has whakapapa, other than that of Maori heritage.

I want to just make a point here about definitions and interpretations of Pakeha and Maori. I am uncomfortable with the practice of describing the world as Maori and non-Maori – I think to do so, is as flawed as describing the world as female and non-female; old and not-old; in other words it describes one population only in relation to the other.

Justice Eddie Durie – a resident of Hutt City – has another definition to offer us: if Maori are the tangata whenua, the original people, then Pakeha are the Tangata Tiriti those who belong to the land by right of the Treaty.

I really like this interpretation as offering us a relationship, a partnership based on the significance of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

It is a relationship which also acknowledges the critical importance of the ancestry, culture and history of both parties to the Treaty– and the quest for legitimacy from both sides in maintaining their cultural identity.

If you like, some of the success factors critical for this relationship can be found in the cult following of the TV show, Dancing with the Stars.
Will Ngapuhi dazzler Brendon Pongia dance a stronger rumba than the informercial shopping queen, Suzanne Paul? Was it written in the stars that Niuean All Black Frank Bunce would always come up against the formidable shadow of that other all-black twinkle toes, Norm Hewitt? What is the key to success?

For when the dancers take to the floor to tango their way through the night, the essential ingredient to a successful dance is mutual respect, a willingness to work together, a strength and confidence evident from both dancers, and excellent communication.

We don’t want to see dancers dropped or toppling over; or one side resplendent in their flamboyance while the other gets dragged around behind.

The dance of integrity that tangata whenua and tangata tiriti must demonstrate, should express that same message of self-determination alongside a willingness to work together in the interests of citizenship.

We don’t want to see one side shimmying in glitter and sequins while the other is threadbare; we don’t want one side to be leaping in agile pirouettes while the other is having trouble catching their breath, reliant on the ventilator to get them through the foxtrot.

Te Tiriti o Waitangi created a reciprocal relationship between Maori and the Crown; a relationship of mutuality.
Article three in particular, signified equality, the rights and privileges of British subjects; while Article Two articulated the promise to Maori that their rights and property would remain protected. It guaranteed to the chiefs who signed the sacred compact, their full rights of chieftainship, tino rangatiratanga.

So if, as a nation, we are to enjoy an enduring dance of harmony and vibrancy; we must ensure that the choreography values justice; builds on the realities of our histories; and respects the inheritance, the culture, the identity of both partners.

The late Rt Hon David Lange, former Prime Minister, once described the Treaty as having “the potential to be our nation’s most powerful unifying symbol”.

I had occasion to look at some of your projects in your website.
I saw mentioned there:
• The Hutt River Trail
• Freeset Bags
• Reading Assistance Programme
• Christmas Tree of Joy
• The biennial Shapeshifter Sculpture Exhibition

But I wonder if I was to look at the projects of 1943 whether there would be anything different to indicate that the spilling of blood; the sacrifice has been honoured through an understanding of the treaty relationship in practice.

If we are to advance as a nation, we must take heed of the observation that the Treaty has been imperfectly observed. You and I, and indeed every New Zealand citizen, are beneficiaries of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.
The challenge before us all is whether we have the resolve to look at that Treaty as a beacon of hope for our shared future.

What is required of us both, is the leap of faith, to execute the legacy of promise pledged by our ancestors 167 years ago.

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