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DR Pita Sharples: Waitangi Day Address

Hon Dr Pita Sharples; Co-leader of the Maori Party Waitangi Day 2009

Friday 6 February 2009

I thank Bishop Kitohu Pikaahu for his invitation to speak to you today.

Directly opposite the Takapau Town Hall; in the CBD of Takapau, there is a proud war memorial erected in grateful memory to those who gave their lives in war.

The memorial carries the following inscription

Sons of this place, let this of you be said That you who live are worthy of your dead These gave their lives that you who live may reap Richer harvest, ere you fall asleep.

Underneath the verse, is the honour roll – the names of Private Pedersen; Private Matu Wehi; Sergeant Major Ireland; Corporal Kepa Naera; Corporate Bean; Private Apatu Nepe and many others.

There is no distinction made between tangata whenua and tangata tiriti; the names of Maori soldiers sitting alongside Pakeha. In death, all lives were equal; their legacy to be that those of us who live on will be worthy of their sacrifice. They are honoured as they fell, together.

In paying the ultimate price of citizenship, many Maori thought they were living out the obligations and the duties that came with the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840.

In times of peace; just as in times of war; let us never forget the sacred covenant that our ancestors signed up to – yours and mine. Can we, today, look at our neighbours, turn to each other, and know that “you who live are worthy of your dead”.

The notion of the Treaty being a sacred covenant is not of course mine alone, as the brave new utterances of the Minister of Maori Affairs.

The Waitangi Tribunal in their Te Roroa report had this to say:

The Treaty was not only a “contract or reciprocal arrangement between two parties” but a “sacred covenant entered into by the Crown and Maori” where “both parties have a common moral duty to abide by the Christian and traditional Maori values it embodies”.

The word covenant comes from the Old Testament, and is apparently used some 286 times in different contexts.

Some describe it coming from the verb – to perceive, to determine – the concept of vision. I like that - the vision of a Treaty.

However the majority of analysis concludes that the concept of a covenant is the idea of a bond – to bind peoples together in holy matrimony, or in our case in sacred nationhood.

So how do we, in 2009, abide by our common moral duty to this bond between our two peoples – the promise of nationhood.

Going back to Takapau – as I often wish to – I remember that whether it be a working bee at the school or a tangihanga at the marae, Maori and Pakeha would be walking, working alongside of each other.

Today, I have heard some Pakeha say they are still waiting for an invitation to go onto a marae; I have been to some tangi where in a sea of black not one white face is to be spotted.

And so I wonder, what has happened to the sacred covenant, the promise signed by my tipuna and those representing Queen Victoria.

Is the seal of partnership really a sham, a fraud, a simple nullity?

As we look out here yonder across the waters, we remember the pain of 2004, with the imposition of the foreshore and seabed legislation.

We remember that Maori were denied due process, to have their day in court; that the Government took away the right of hapu and iwi to have their claims over their foreshore and seabed heard in court.

The Crown assumed a right to extinguish all previous tikanga, legislative, and common law definitions of our customary rights and to replace it with a new concept called "ancestral connection".

Gone – in one panic moment of deliberate exclusion.

Gone – in one stroke of the pen.

Gone - the opportunity for Maori to take their claims to customary rights to the Maori Land Court

Gone – the possibility of those rights being converted into property rights under Crown law.

I want to make it quite clear – Maori have never been a culture dominated by the quest for ownership; the greed for wealth; the hunt for corporate, material assets.

Our way is an inclusive way – an approach which seeks the best for all, that places value on the demonstration of manaakitanga – the capacity to host and care for our guests.

Public access to the foreshore and seabed had always been, and would have been likely to continue unimpeded, as inkeeping with our moral duty to uphold the Treaty.

And yet, as the path of history now tells us, the very basis of our democracy was to be overturned by a Bill which was rammed through Parliament by a Government desperate to control race relations.

Five years on then, where are we now?

Have we come to an end of the divide and rule tactics that broke out when a sheep named Shrek was of more relevance than 35,000 New Zealanders who joined the hikoi?

We are just facing the consequences of foreshore and seabed legislation which now pits one tribe against another; when those who have lost land through the hand of government, those who have suffered the fate of raupatu, are not equal with others.

But I am a firm believer in the hope of a new day.

Just as this morning, many of us faced the dawn with our own karakia for unity throughout our land, we must return to the promise of the sacred covenant that binds us as peoples.

There is every reason for hope if we are to believe the Human Rights Commission who earlier this week announced that three in every five New Zealanders, agree that the Treaty of Waitangi is New Zealand’s founding document and that the Treaty is for all New Zealanders.

Hallelujah!

There is every reason for hope when I think of the strength demonstrated by a new Government, seeking a better relationship with Maori, through a relationship agreement with the Maori Party; and a decision to review the Foreshore and Seabed legislation.

There is reason for hope, when we see the imprint of the Treaty stitched through our lives, when mana whenua interests are retained in the Resource Management Act, when constitutional issues are once more on the agenda.

There is reason for hope, when in the midst of difficult times, Maori leaders, business people, workers and whanau gather together at our economic summit last week, and speak of the need for collaboration, for cooperation, for working together.

And it is fitting to mark today, as we think of the vision of those who went before us, and we commemorate the death of Hone Heke Ngapua, the former MP for Northern Maori, who died one hundred years ago this week.

In his watch, Mr Heke tried three times to introduce a Native Rights Bill into Parliament, asking for a constitution for Maori and protection of rights under Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

let this of you be said That you who live are worthy of your dead

The aspiration of Hone Heke Ngapua remains waiting to be fulfilled. Finally, let us all mark this Waitangi Day, by thinking of our neighbours, those who we walk through life with, reaching out to those most in need, living up to the promise of the Treaty.

When all of us act with integrity to advance our collective interests for the common good; when we agree to disagree in ways that respect each other’s rights and dignity; when we truly believe that whanau ora is a goal worth fighting for, then perhaps then, we can say, we are fulfilling the promise of the Treaty of Waitangi.

ends

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