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Sharples: Priceless document impossible to value

Pita Sharples: Priceless document impossible to value

Published in The Herald, Wednesday December 13, 2006

I te ono o nga ra o Pepuere, i te tau kotahi mano waru rau wha tekau, i hainatia te tiriti o Waitangi e nga tipuna/matua, e nga rangatira Maori me nga äpiha o Kuini Wikitoria o Ingarangi.

Na te mea na nga rangatira Maori i haina, he kawenata te tiriti.
On the 6th of February in 1840 the Treaty of Waitangi was signed by our ancestors, our Maori chiefs and the Representatives of Queen Victoria, Queen of England.

Because our chiefs signed this treaty it is a covenant document to Maori. The document, a national treasure, is kept in the National Archives.

The Treaty has literally been regarded as priceless, and any idea that it might be sold, inconceivable. But in the early 90s, Treasury officials insisted that it be given a monetary value with everything else the Government "owned".

At first a London valuer was used - the international auction house, Sotheby's, in December 2004. Archives New Zealand has confirmed that Sotheby's valuation valued the Treaty of Waitangi at $32 million. With the monetary value of things changing over time, it was thought to revalue the Treaty on a regular basis.

A valuation on the Treaty of Waitangi was also undertaken by Dunbar Sloane in January 2005, described in Treasury's 2006 financial statements, as based "through market assessments and from other collections of similar nature". A documentary is to be made by Alister Barry regarding this valuation process of the Treaty. He sought my views on the matter.

Like most New Zealanders I was shocked, to hear that a monetary value could be placed on such a treasure, and that this had actually been done. A hundred thoughts, 1000 questions flashed through my mind as I tried to contemplate such a happening. This cannot be, I thought, and so I decided to record my concerns.

What price the treaty?
Who are you, who would seek to put a price upon the Treaty? Why do you want to do this? I do not understand how you think that you can do this thing - or even how it might be done.

When I tell you that the Treaty is priceless, why does that not have meaning for you? This is my Treaty - is it not yours too?

How can you ever know the value of my Treaty? My ancestor put his mark on this treaty 166 years ago! And his mark is my mark, and my mark is not for sale!

I know you would not put a price on my mother's photograph, or on my grandfather's certificate of birth - and I know also that you could not even guess the value that my taiaha has for me - or indeed my kaitaka, and my kotiate "Matariki", both who have survived the conflicts of the 19th century! So then - what makes you think that you can put a price on my Treaty?

And what is that price to be?
Thirty-three dollars? Or $33 million? What is this culture that seeks to measure my history in gold coin? Don't you know that fiscal reference has no account? What difference one price from another? Too dear for the beggar; small change for the cartel. Thirty-three or $33 million - it matters not. Perhaps your price seeks company from the annals of the world. Is my Treaty then to be compared to the Gettysburg Address, or to render value to the American Declaration of Independence? What then of the Magna Carta? Does time lend expense to the equation?

If this is to be your measure, sir, then you do my ancestor no favour. For, indeed, how can you compare the authorities of Drake and Ralegh of England to the mana of my ancestor here in the Antipodes? For my ancestor was here, not there - and his mana was of this place. And this place is of the mana of my ancestor. And so it is with me and my mana of this place. So too the Treaty - the Treaty is of this place and the Treaty gives life to my ancestor - and he lives in me. Sir, our mana is not for sale.

And what price would you pay then to live in this place? For did not the Treaty invite the succession of sea vessels of Britannia to cross the Great Sea and bring forth their charges to share in this land? Is the gift of a new life, a place to stand, to be deemed such common fare to be compared to a diamond necklace, a measure of tobacco, or a Japanese car?

No, my friend, what the Treaty affords to you and me cannot fit on your scales.
But perhaps this discussion begs the real question of what it is that you would seek to measure. It is surely not to be found in the document's style, nor does its form give pleasure to the eye - for history has not been kind to it.

Rather the document reveals well the marks of neglect - and even bears the scars of an onslaught from the immigrant rodent population.

So, what then, are you going to measure?
The Treaty of Waitangi has opened up this country for you to share. The Treaty has said, "Welcome to these islands which have nourished my people for 1000 years." The Treaty has said, "Let Kawanatanga exist alongside Tino Rangatiratanga." The Treaty has prescribed a formula for life in this land. The Treaty gives you a share in Aotearoa.

So then, what value would you place upon the snow-capped giants, standing silent in their majesty to give an apodictic truth to the history of our forbears?

And how much for the morning smell of the ocean, and the soft caress of the evening breeze, heralding a sunset panorama that has no better?

And would you also have a fee for the privilege of witnessing the miracle of the birth of the butterfly as her beauty awakens and unfolds to emerge from the shell of her incarceration, before flying off to enjoy her short life?

And then, of course, you must charge for the concert of a cacophony extraordinaire as the creatures of the forest vie for a voice in nature's symphony!

And my friend, how many pounds of butter would you offer for the children's laughter, as their carefully crafted castles of sand, slowly succumb to the gentle kiss of a turning tide?

You see, for me, the Treaty is all these things - the summer Christmas, a lagging autumn, Matariki's winter and the rebirth of spring.

And in bad times, when our nation is abusing our children, when we create a poverty class, when we forget to treasure each other's value, then I look to the Treaty - to its promise of a strong, unified nation, and once again I am filled with hope and inspiration for what could be.

And so I say to you, sir, you have no measure for my Treaty. To give the Treaty a price is to take away its worth.

To value is to devalue.

* Dr Pita Sharples is co-leader of the Maori Party.

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