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Commemoration of the Signing of the Treaty of Waitangi

Issue date: 
Saturday, 6 February 1988
The Hon and the Rt Rev Sir Paul Reeves, GCMG, GCVO, QSO


I stand upon this symbolic earth
In the shelter of Aoraki Mountain
Stand tall sacred mountain!
Upon which were placed the history
Of those who have passed on
  E tu ana i tenei taumata korero
I te maru o Maunga Aoraki
E tu koe te tipua maunga
I whakairia ai nga korero
E te hunga kua ngaro ki te po

Poroporoaki ki te hunga mate

He nui nga uuauatanga.
Engari, ma te whakapono (ki te Atua)
Ka oti nga mahi.
Ko ta tatou mahi
he whakatika i nga kaupapa
mo te hunga ragatahi,
e taea ai e taatou te mahi
i roto i te korenga e hohaa.
Ko to kotahitanga, kei roto i
to tatou awhinatanga i a tatou.
Kia whakatauki ake au -
Ka whaka puupuutia te Kaakaho,
E kore e whati.

We have many difficulties but with God's help we will succeed.

Our task is to make a better world for our young people where they can work and not be frustrated.

Our unity is the way we support each other. Together we can be strong.

Long after other Treaties have been forgotten the Treaty of Waitangi remains to challenge us. Despite confusion, misunderstandings and denials, this Treaty stands as our greatest national treasure. It has the power to shape a new society.

It is not a precise document so if we are looking for difficulties they can be found. But if we believe the Treaty is an obligation of honour then it can be honoured. This is the heart of our present struggle.

Issues of Māori sovereignty and ownership of resources are still outstanding but the Treaty is pushing us towards a partnership and a social contract which is distinctively ours. We look for a just society where all people would be able to recognise their own worth, have a sense of their own power, own a skill, turn it into money, reinvest in the community.

It is not like that yet. The test of any social contract is the plight of the poorest, so we judge social policy not by its cost but by its impact on the poor, needy and marginalised. In New Zealand these people are mainly Maoris. It is their health, education and family life which are suffering.

You may ask how the honouring of the Treaty will give Maoris a new sense of hope. Here are two whakatauki:

Te toto o te tangata he kai
Te oranga o te tangata he whenua

(Food supplies the blood of a person
His welfare depends on the land.)

Toi te kupu toi te mana toi te whenua
(Without the language, the mana and the land, dignity and life force have gone.)

The land gives me a place. With land I am someone bound to others like me. But Maoris now have to do something with what they have got. They must develop the skills to manage communal and individual assets in today's economic environment. There is room for great improvement.

But if the Treaty of Waitangi is being abused or misunderstood that is not a Māori issue. It is an issue for non-Māori people to deal with. I hear of a white backlash but I also know of one organisation which can't keep up with requests for information and strategies to help sort out the Pakeha side of the Treaty.

1987 was a year of momentous Court decisions which could create new situations and opportunities. People ask nervously what will happen in 1990 when we commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Treaty. What happens in 1990 depends on what was done in 1987 and what will be done in 1988 and 1989. Time is not on our side.

I am talking about constructive social policies, the reduction of unemployment, the effectiveness of the Waitangi Tribunal, educational, judicial and health systems which are relevant, the recognition of Māori language.

It is a painful process. It raises the question, what is a New Zealander and this is a very sensitive issue. It is something which Māori and non-Māori find very hard to talk about. For some the risk of rejection is too great so they keep quiet.

But we have made progress. The pace will accelerate if we can remove the causes of discontent. My fear is we might settle for what is half hearted. That would be disastrous for why sip from the cup when you can drink from the river?

Last updated: 
Saturday, 6 February 1988

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