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Māori Lawyers' Hui Manawhenua

Issue date: 
Monday, 9 April 1990
The Hon and the Rt Rev Sir Paul Reeves, GCMG, GCVO, QSO

It's worth saying, especially to lawyers, that the Treaty of Waitangi is not solely a legal document. Claudia Orange writes that "The role of the English missionaries determined that Ngapuhi in particular would understand the Treaty as a special kind of covenant with the Queen, a bond with all the spiritual connotations of the biblical covenants "

I want to look at three of the connotations of biblical covenants. My message is that without an understanding of these characteristics you cannot hope to appreciate the intensity with which Māori view the Treaty of Waitangi.

Covenants are treaties of mutual respect between cultures that give each other the right and space to be different. Abraham made a covenant with Abimelech the Philistine after he had said "I have been loyal to you, so promise that you will also be loyal to me and to this country in which you are living." There was give and take in the relationship. Abimelech and Abraham had to accept certain limitations as well as appreciating both their own and the other's privileges and responsibilities.

Covenants in the Bible are totally conditioned by the need "to obey God's voice." Covenants involve choice and decision in the succession of events that make up our history. In other words our tipuna signed the Treaty of Waitangi and we have to make it work.

A covenant is a sign of God's promise, "I will establish my covenant not only with Abraham but also with his descendants." A covenant says people don't have to resign themselves to what they have. There is always the future and further possibilities. A covenant means two partners are bound to continue with each other, they recognise there will be difficulties and they accept that the continuing is done through the difficulties.

There are two final points. One is that the biblical record shows you can't deal with land without dealing with people. The Treaty of Waitangi is an assurance that continuing possession of the land is possible between two peoples. The present alienation of Māori from their land weakens their trust in that assurance. The rectification of injustice would mean a renewed Māori confidence and trust in the ability of humans to work together so that the earth as a whole can survive and humans can be part of that survival.

My second point concerns the phrase "Honour the Treaty". Honour goes way beyond a legal requirement; honour is what I want to do, not what I am required to do. Perhaps I am in the best position to honour something when I have realised that the deliverance of another person from me is, in fact, my own deliverance. In Treaty terms, it is only when both sides have a sharp appreciation of their own differing obligations that they can begin to integrate with mutual obligations.

The Hui is an opportunity for people to meet, plan and to advise. Its value will be determined more by the workshops and informal contacts than by set speeches such as this one. Manawhenua, Manatangata, Manarangatiratanga - Birthright, Standing, Authority - these things are at stake. I wish you well and it's my pleasure to declare this Hui Manawhenua open.

Last updated: 
Monday, 9 April 1990

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