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The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People

The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
Hone Harawira, Maori Party Member of Parliament for Te Tai Tokerau
Wednesday 21 April 2010; 3.10pm

Mr Speaker - it was with a sense of enduring shame that when the rest of the world was signing up to the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007, the Labour government of the time, without consultation with their own Maori caucus or with the wider Maori population, decided to oppose the Declaration, thus sending a clear statement to the world that as long as Labour was in power, New Zealand would oppose the fundamental rights and aspirations of Maori people.

And they openly declared that opposition, even though Maori had attended meetings all round the world for more than 20 years in support of the Declaration, and even though the draft Declaration had received the unqualified support of such national Maori icons as Sir James Henare, Dame Whina Cooper, Dame Mira Szazy, Te Ataairangi Kaahu, Sir Robert Mahuta, Whakahuihui Vercoe, Sir Paul Reeves, Sir Hepi Te Heuheu, the Maori Women’s Welfare League and the New Zealand Maori Council.

So it was with a deep sense of satisfaction from within Maoridom that Labour got dumped from the government benches 12 months later and lost 4 of their precious Maori seats to an upstart party whose people had finally woken up to the fact that Maori aspirations were being strangled to death in a party of indifference, clearing the way for the brand new Maori Party to open negotiations with the National Government which lead to yesterday’s historic announcement to support the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a document opposed vociferously by the Labour Party in 2007, and is still opposed by the Labour Party in 2010.

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So today I stand with pride to congratulate the Maori Party co-leader, Dr Pita Sharples and his staff for the months of negotiation in the lead up to yesterday’s announcement that New Zealand would be supporting, without caveat, the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, at the opening session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York.

And on behalf of the Maori Party I congratulate Prime Minister John Key and the National Party for the boldness of their decision to work with the Maori Party in recognising that Māori do hold a special status as the indigenous people of Aotearoa, and that indigenous rights and indigenous culture are of profound importance to this country and fundamental to our identity as a nation.

And again, on behalf of the Maori Party I acknowledge the long-standing support of the Green Party for the adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and their commitment to the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and United Future for their support of government’s decision to adopt the Declaration.

And to ask the rest of this house – those who would speak against this document – some very simple questions like why it is that opponents in this House can so comfortably sign up to international covenants on the rights of women, children, gay people, and even dogs, but be so small-minded, petty and mean-spirited in their opposition to an international covenant on the rights of indigenous people; a declaration that is aspirational in it’s wording, positive in its vision, and uplifting in it’s nature.

Mr Speaker, the adoption of this Declaration is deserving of a greater conclusion than I can deliver, so I leave my final words to The Honourable Sir Edward Taihakurei Durie, who emailed us this morning to say -

My congratulations to the Maori Party caucus for the Party’s role in securing New Zealand’s support for the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Were nothing else done during the Party’s lifetime, this one thing would be enough to secure for it a treasured place in Maori history.

Notwithstanding the progress made through all the tribunal reports and court cases from the 1980s, and the consequential changes in legislation and official policy, I would still rank the day that New Zealand gave support to the Declaration, as the most significant day, in advancing Maori rights, since 6th February 1840.

I do not overlook that the Declaration has only moral force. The same is said of the Treaty. Important statements of principle established through international negotiation and acclamation, filter into the law in time, through both governments and the courts, which look constantly for universal statements of principle in developing policy or deciding cases.

Most significant for the present is the statement that recurs throughout the Declaration that indigenous people should be dealt with through their own institutions, a matter with potent implications for the Office of Treaty Settlements, the Crown Forest Rental Trust, the Waitangi Tribunal and for those developing policy for social service delivery.

I hope something will be done in time to honour those of our people who helped to achieve this result.

No reira, tüturu whakamaua kia tina - TINA!
Hui e - TAIKI E!

ENDS

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