What now?

 I guess most of us felt relief when the Waitangi Tribunal reported that the Māori who signed Te Tiriti did not cede sovereignty and had neither intention nor reasons to do so…

"The rangatira who signed te Tiriti o Waitangi in February 1840 did not cede sovereignty to the British Crown, the Waitangi Tribunal has concluded.

The Tribunal today released its report on stage 1 of its inquiry into Te Paparahi o te Raki (the great land of the north) Treaty claims.

The report concerns the ‘meaning and effect’ of the Treaty in February 1840, when the first signings of te Tiriti took place in the Bay of Islands and the Hokianga. Stage 2 of the inquiry, which is under way, will consider events after February 1840.

‘Though Britain went into the treaty negotiation intending to acquire sovereignty, and therefore the power to make and enforce law over both Maori and Pakeha, it did not explain this to the rangatira’, the Tribunal said.

Rather, Britain ’s representative William Hobson and his agents explained the Treaty as granting Britain ‘the power to control British subjects and thereby to protect Maori’, while rangatira were told that they would retain their ‘tino rangatiratanga’, their independence and full chiefly authority.

‘The rangatira who signed te Tiriti o Waitangi in February 1840 did not cede their sovereignty to Britain ’, the Tribunal concluded. ‘That is, they did not cede authority to make and enforce law over their people or their territories.’

The rangatira did, however, agree ‘to share power and authority with Britain ’.

‘They agreed to the Governor having authority to control British subjects in New Zealand , and thereby keep the peace and protect Maori interests’, the Tribunal said.

‘The rangatira consented to the treaty on the basis that they and the Governor were to be equals, though they were to have different roles and different spheres of influence. The detail of how this relationship would work in practice, especially where the Maori and European populations intermingled, remained to be negotiated over time on a case-by-case basis.' "

-WT press release Friday 14 November

 Predictably the Government was swift with a reply:

 The Waitangi Tribunal's finding that Maori chiefs who signed the Treaty of Waitangi did not cede sovereignty does not change the fact the Crown has sovereignty in New Zealand, Treaty Negotations Minister Chris Finlayson says.

 The Herald wheeled in historian Paul Moon to belittle the Tribunal and its findings with a number of questionable opinions.

For example, he stated that Te Wakaputanga was local, insignificant and unauthorised, possibly meaning that James Busby’s role was unauthorised. However, the British colonial beliefs that Busby initiated the whole gathering, and the subsequent declaration of nationhood and that indigenous peoples were incapable of self-government and holding sovereignty in their own territories no longer holds water and lacks credibility. In other words, Moon holds old-fashioned and outmoded Eurocentric beliefs and assumptions, characteristic of historians in the British colonial tradition.

He ignores the fact that Te Wakaminenga was an evolving form of parliament (a word derived from parley, to speak) which the sovereign hapu developed in their own territory. He also ignores the fact that their flag was internationally recognised.

But enough of being picky about Paul Moon.  What I’m really interested in is our strategic language over the next few months. The Tribunal made no recommendations at this stage, reserving them for the end of the second stage of the hearings. This gives the government plenty of time to keep on saying “So what? We are the Government now.”

We need to find ways of clarifying the basis of government: if not by cession, then what? How? Was it conquest? James Belich suggests that the wars were about substantive sovereignty. Who would call all the shots.

The British belief that sovereignty is single and indivisible is just that: a belief, an assumption.  It worked for them – though there are cracks and tensions in the UK around rule and sovereignty. But who says that sovereignty cannot be shared? Who says that sovereignty has to be a top-down thing. I’m hoping that Susan Healy might write something about the principle of subsidiarity and how bottom-up sovereignty works, because that was the basis of rangatiratanga.

So much for John Key’s assertions that New Zealand was a nation that came into being peacefully. If not by conquest, how? Was it by stealth? How did the takeover happen? I think that we should at least begin to talk about ‘takeover’as a counter to cession. We should emphasise the relationship basis of the Māori vision of co-operation embodied in Te Tiriti. We should not wait for the Tribunal to make recommendations. We need to find new terms and start talking now.


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