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The Nation - Aroha Mead

'The Nation'
Aroha Mead
Interviewed by SEAN PLUNKET

Sean In the Far North various Iwi are meeting this weekend to absorb what may be one of the most significant reports ever from the Waitangi Tribunal. It deals with the Y262 inquiry into claims the Crown failed to protect Maori rights of guardianship over indigenous flora and fauna, cultural and traditional knowledge.

Well joining me now is Aroha Mead from Victoria University School of Management. Aroha kia ora, good morning. The report now out and looking at it those fears about ownership have been allayed, because the ownership of flora and fauna has been rejected. But certainly this is very wide ranging in terms of recommendations about guardianship and consultation, isn't it?

Aroha Mead – Victoria University Mgmt School, Senior Lecturer
This is a very historical claim because as the Tribunal described it's the first whole of government inquiry. So it has some very sweeping recommendations that look at new legislation, reform of existing legislation, expanded powers of existing groups, establishment of new groups. It's a very ambitious platform that the Tribunal is presenting to us on the claim.

Sean Do you think Iwi will be disappointed or heartened by this report?

Aroha Well I think the report is a mixed bag for both Maori and the Crown. I say that because I think for Maori they will be very disappointed in the findings that they don’t have proprietary interests in the taonga species, indigenous flora and fauna, and likewise I think the Crown is going to be a little bit disappointed that this report focuses very heavily on them changing their behaviours, their attitudes, their policies and practices and laws. So it's the kind of report that no one's going to be jumping up and down with joy for, but I think the Tribunal have deliberately positioned their findings in the context of moving out of Treaty grievance mode, to working together in a Treaty partnership to forge a more mature, more developed Treaty relationship and Treaty nation.

Sean And it certainly lays that out, and for example what do you make of the recommendations around consultation at local government level for example?

Aroha Well I think it's probably long overdue. There have been many criticisms about the failings of the Resource Management Act to deliver all that it promised to do in terms of that relationship to the Iwi…

Sean It basically says that they’ve gotta formalise decisions between tangatawhenua and local authorities as far as resource management is concerned, and those provisions have to be compulsory, formal and pro-active, which might scare a lot of New Zealanders.

Aroha That’s actually a theme that runs throughout the Tribunal findings in a number of areas of policy. They're saying that to have things written as a policy but not backed up in legislation hasn’t worked. Maori have been alienated from these processes, they’ve been relegated to a very passive responsive role of being consulted when the Crown feels like it, or when local government feels like it.

Sean So Aroha does this mean more Taniwha?

Aroha Ohh, I think it's you know far more complex than that. The Tribunal is trying to move us into a new phase where we take partnership more seriously. We look at it in terms of decision making, not just consultation, and that we really try and find a way of working together for the betterment of the environment.

Sean I'm just wondering how many non Maori New Zealanders for example are going to welcome traditional Maori medicine being integrated into the public health system.

Aroha Well it's a matter of choice though Sean. Bringing rongoa Maori into the health system isn't making everyone have to use it, it's simply adding that to the list of options available for care, and let's face it Maori health statistics are very poor. In fact the Tribunal refers to it as being at a crisis point, and why not add as many possibilities for improving that situation as possible.

Sean It's been said this report was an attempt or is an attempt to move past grievance, into what you call partnership. Because its recommendations are not binding on government, is it possible that this in fact will be a new source of grievance, as Maori as Iwi fight to get the recommendations here implemented into government policy and perhaps governments resist that?

Aroha Well I would really hope that that’s not the case. I think the report is over a thousand pages, it contains a lot of information.

Sean That’s the report sitting next to you there isn't it?

Aroha This is actually a report where I've got four pages copied on to one page, so that gives you an indication of the size of the overall report. It's three volumes, and it really requires us all to go through paragraph by paragraph, work out those things that we agree with, those things that we can palate, and those things that are simply unacceptable. But Maori must do that and the Crown needs to do that. I think if anybody was to dismiss all the findings of the Tribunal without going through that analytical exercise, nobody's interests would be served well by taking that approach.

Sean Okay so compared with say other Treaty claims, how important is the implementation of this report now to Maori around the country, is this the new template and the way forward?

Aroha I think it is the new template and the Tribunal makes some really interesting statements in this report about the Crown Maori relationship. It talks about how the Crown really needs to shift its mindset from thinking of itself as a Pakeha English speaking entity, and better embrace the fact that Maori are part of the Crown as well. Maori culture is part of the Crown. That therefore the Crown has a responsibility to try and protect the interests of Maori culture in a far more active way than it has. The report also says that really with Treaty principles that have been articulated by the courts over time, the Crown needs to not just pick and choose Treaty principles from a menu, they need to read all of them together, and look at the issue of partnership in the context of all the other Treaty principles, so that we're moving forward in a much stronger direction.

Sean As you said, a huge document, so much in it. You know of course that parts of it will be picked out and used by those who would look to profit from division in our society?

Aroha Absolutely, but I would urge them to take the time to read. I skimmed through the report, I mean clearly I cannot read this in one night, and there are parts of it where I'm feeling very disappointed with what's said, and then two pages along I'll look at something and think wow this is truly progressive. So I think you do need to go through that exercise of looking at the whole text. I think the Tribunal have gone to great pains to contextualise every comment they’ve made, every recommendation they’ve made.

Sean Professor Mead I'm sure we are going to hear much more about it, thank you very much indeed for being with us today.

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