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Response to PM's Statement to Parliament

Response to Prime Minister's Statement to Parliament

Dr Pita R Sharples, Co-leader of the Maori Party

Tuesday, 12 February 2008; 4pm

Tena koe Madam Speaker.

Tena tatau katoa. I pose the question as to how it is, that State of the Nation addresses somehow leave references to our founding document, Te Tiriti o Waitangi – to the very end of the speech; or refer to the special characteristics of tangata whenua under the mantle of ‘tackling inequalities’.

To address this constitutional imbalance, I propose instead, to place Te Tiriti o Waitangi, upfront, as the key to advancing our nationhood; and to refer to tangata whenua in ways which recognise our unique status as the indigenous peoples of Aotearoa.

Once again, and for the third year in a row we have now enjoyed trouble free celebrations at Waitangi. In addition, many other centres throughout the country can boast successful celebrations of the birthday of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. This is most certainly a positive for our continued development of our nationhood.

The question of the precisely where the Treaty sits in relation to our constitution– namely, our courts, our laws, and to Parliament itself - however, is an issue which has never been discussed and debated at a national level.

There have been numerous suggestions, projections and speculations from various groups within our society, including a strong call from Maori to have Te Tiriti-o-Waitangi ‘ratified’ in one form or another.

Successive governments, both Labour and National have identified the Treaty as the founding document of this country’s nationhood.

So in the current positive climate towards Waitangi Day perhaps it is time for an inclusive and formal discussion to take place on the status of Te Tiriti o Waitangi in relation to our constitution.

This is a proposal we introduced on Waitangi Day 2007 – the concept of a Treaty Commissioner to raise awareness and understanding of the Treaty; to be an advocate for the Treaty; and to promote the proper application of the Treaty in legislation.

A working Commission of sorts could commission research and discussion on the constitutional possibilities of the Treaty.

Such a body could promote widespread hui amongst hapü, iwi and other forms of Maori authorities representing the chiefs who were signators, and who comprised one partner of the actual event, the original event.

Such proposals would preserve this Maori partner status to the Treaty, but would also present a Maori ‘world-view’ about how Te Tiriti might be formally ratified to suit our new society.

In turn, this Commission could receive formal submissions through government agencies representing the Crown as the second partner to Te Tiriti.

Maori and government representatives could then hold a series of hui to attempt to find a way forward – and to perhaps design a single constitution document for ratification and maybe even design a new form of governance for our young nation here in New Zealand.

Te Tiriti o Waitangi was first signed at Waitangi by Maori chiefs and the representatives of Queen Victoria.

The document was then taken around the country where various other tribal leaders signed it.

We know that the Treaty was posited as a tool for aiding colonisation, nevertheless, it is intended that the articles of the Treaty describe a blueprint, a formula for Maori and Päkehä to live together and share this country, respecting each partners respective genre de vie. The Treaty in fact is this country’s first immigration document.

The path of implementing the conditions of Te Tiriti over the years has been anything but smooth. Maori feel aggrieved that the promises contained within the Treaty with regard to Maori ownership and governance over our resources have not been kept.

There is a strong sense of “we have kept our part of this bargain – the Crown has not”. This of course is a reference to Maori fighting for the country in numerous wars of the world and contributing to the establishment of our society and the development of our political, social and spiritual New Zealand culture.

The ‘rocky road’ of the treaty’s validation is well documented. Queen Elizabeth II visiting New Zealand on Waitangi Day in 1990 told our nation, and I quote:

“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.”

And on the 6 September 2002, speaking at Cape Town University in South Africa, Prime Minister Helen Clark spoke of New Zealand’s journey of nationhood – as a “multi-cultural nation with an explicitly bicultural foundation.”

In this address the Prime Minister spoke of the Treaty enabling the British to govern while guaranteeing Maori our fisheries, forests, and lands, and rights of citizenship. The Prime Minister continued and explained how the Treaty also acknowledged the chieftainship of Maori and confirmed our special place as the indigenous people of New Zealand.

Noting the events of our history the Prime Minister also said, and I quote, “as settlers poured into New Zealand, the Treaty was honoured more in the breach than in observance”.

The point that I’m making is simply that unaddressed issues relating to Te Tiriti o Waitangi are not just going to go away, and that for the good of our nationhood we should perhaps face the challenge right now.

Recognising the multi racial nature of our country’s current population make-up, I believe it is pertinent here for me to make the distinction between race and whakapapa.

A Maori claim for türangawaewae ‘a place to stand’ in Aotearoa is made not on the grounds of race, ethnic origin, or citizenship, but upon whakapapa, a genealogy.

Genealogical descent over the past millennium describes a unique history, a distinctive cultural and spiritual past tied intrinsically to the land and to the sea of these islands. A unique Maori history through which we claim the status of he iwi taketake, ‘of this place’.

I make this distinction because the Treaty of Waitangi acknowledges this relationship and exists as a contract between the colonisers (via the Crown) and tangata whenua (the occupants of the various rohe). The Treaty, therefore, does refer to Maori and Päkehä partnership beginnings and in reality can serve to provide a sound basis upon which to grow our multi-cultural nation.

The reference to Maori issues in terms of race, therefore, is a misnomer, and totally mis-represents the concept of tangata whenua. Race talks about identity in terms of blood quantum. Tangata whenua on the other hand refers to identity through whakapapa – genealogical links.

Recent references by the larger parties in this house, to proposed funding for Maori initiatives as ‘racial funding’ are equally a misnomer. Maori issues are directly concerned with the rights and the opportunities and the aspirations of the tangata whenua inhabitants of this country.

This was, and still is, the home of Maori – there is no other place where Maori culture can live, and Te Tiriti o Waitangi guarantees that right.

Another issue which is relevant to this discussion around Te Tiriti o Waitangi is the definition, or the various definitions of ‘Tino Rangatiratanga’, loosely translated as ‘self-determination’.

Self-determination is about ownership. The path for self-determination for Maori with regard to the Foreshore and Seabed was deliberately obstructed by this government with the passing of the Foreshore and Seabed Act. Under this Act, the opportunity to explore ownership through the Maori Land Court was extinguished and self-determination was replaced by self-management.

I recall speaking in this house about government’s attempt at the United Nations to redefine ‘self determination’ as ‘self management’, and although this was overturned at Geneva in 2005, the government has continued to act in this way. It is ‘self management’ that Dr Cullen is planning to give Ngati Porou over their foreshore and seabed deal.

No self-determination, no ownership, and not even governance over the foreshore is offered. Instead, Ngati Porou is offered self management over the foreshore and in only a few selected areas.

Self-determination would have offered Ngati Porou customary title over their foreshore, but the government is offering only ‘Territorial Customary Rights’, and those rights are totally restricted to the terms of the bill. Real customary rights were extinguished by the Foreshore and Seabed Act.

Clearly this poses a dilemma for the Maori Party – we have an obligation to support the tino rangatiratanga of each iwi, and we recognise that Ngati Porou have sought certain benefits for their hapü under this act and accordingly we will work with Ngati Porou to ensure that they get the best deal from the path they have chosen. Similarly, we will support the claim of Tainui before government at this time even though it too, is concerned with part management of the river, and not governance or customary title.

However, the Maori Party does have a mandate and a responsibility to pursue self-determination opportunities of the fullest sense for Maori and will continue to do this.

And needless to say we look forward to working together with all parties of this house to further this objective, and to advance our country’s nationhood in a spirit of understanding and unity.

Kia ora.


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