In 1988 the Princess Royal stayed at Government House, Wellington. At dinner, a prominent Māori seated next to her said, "When I look into your eyes I see the reflection of your ancestor, Victoria, whose agent, Hobson, signed the Treaty in 1840."
The Princess Royal might have wondered what he was on about but it is certainly true that on 6 February 1990 when Her Majesty The Queen stepped ashore at Waitangi she came as the great-great-granddaughter of Victoria coming to meet her Treaty partner.
The Treaty of Waitangi is an unusual Treaty. It is not like an agreement signed by two nations to stop killing and hostility between them. Nor is it a simple agreement to buy and sell land. In fact it took 135 years before the Treaty of Waitangi Act was passed in 1975 to enforce acceptance of its obligations.
When the Treaty was signed it was a forward looking compact concerned with the future. It has become an instrument for looking at past injustices but what we must do is recapture that forward looking perspective. That is why some people look for a society which is driven and ordered and responsible to the Treaty of Waitangi.
In the beginning the British Government took the Treaty of Waitangi seriously. The Governors were instructed to observe its terms and conditions to the letter. Hobson and Fitzroy, the two Naval Governors, did just that, but, as you may know, the settlers had difficulty with the obligations of the Treaty of Waitangi, specially after the passing of the Constitution Act of 1852.
Judge Prendergast in his well known judgment of 1877 in the case of Wi Parata v The Bishop of Wellington ruled the Treaty of Waitangi was a simple nullity. In 1901, the Privy Council reconsidered Prendergast's ruling but legislation quickly passed by the New Zealand House of Representatives nullified any action the Privy Council might have recommended. However, there has been a consistent Māori thread epitomised by the grave of T. W. Ratana which is found at the front of the Temple at Ratana village. On one side there is the Bible. On the other side the Treaty of Waitangi.
The Treaty of Waitangi signed between the Crown and the Māori Chiefs sought to create a basis for Māori and Pakeha to face the new world which was rapidly bearing down upon them and to manage the uncertain future together. Yet the Treaty is ambiguous and to Māori and European it has represented different things. One view might stress Māori consent to British sovereignty while Maoris might want to stress the Treaty as giving them legitimate rights over land and sea.
It is as if two histories, two sets of hopes, two selections of facts have been vying against each other. Here is a quotation from the Historian, Judith Binney.
"There have been two remembered histories of New Zealand since 1840: that of the colonisers and that of the colonised. Their visions and goals were often quite different, creating memories which have been patterned by varying hopes and experiences. The Māori oral histories of these events have been largely suppressed histories although they live in their own world. In the twentieth century it is the European written histories which have dominated. Hone Mohe Tawhai accurately predicted, while considering whether or not to sign the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, that the sayings of Māori would "sink to the bottom like a stone" while the sayings of the Pakehas would "float light like the wood of the wau tree and always remain to be seen."
I want to consider two concepts as they relate to the Treaty of Waitangi, namely partnership and spirit.
Partnership: In 1987 the Māori Council sought a judicial review of the powers of the Crown under the SOE Act, initially in the High Court but then in the Court of Appeal. That Court called for rights to be balanced against obligations and for the Crown and the Māori to act responsibly and with good faith towards each other. The Crown and Māori became partners. The word 'partnership' now joins the time honoured list of words that includes 'assimilation', 'biculturalism' and 'integration'. Partnerships are also very different things as we find out in other aspects of our lives. Partnerships between husband and wife, doctor and patient, urban and rural dwellers do not happen easily.
In the 1950s and 60s, the tribe was considered to be an anachronism but the concept of tribe and a tribal authority is now enjoying a resurgence. So if partnership means the sharing of initiative, power and responsibility, who are the partners? On one side there is the Crown and the Government with elected or selected individuals. On the other side there are Māori people with individuals filling a role primarily by right of birth.
The proposal is that tribal or iwi organisations should take responsibility for administering and implementing Government programmes. There is much debate about the readiness of tribal groups to be partners in this sort of arrangement. My intuition is that Māori groups have the expertise and the ability to handle administrative and business matters with skill and accountability.
Spirit: By spirit I would understand the process of how partners are meant to behave towards each other. If we talk past each other, we can barely claim to be partners. Communication is therefore an issue. Spirit of a partnership is tested when people dig up the historical facts because then you have to decide what you do about what is revealed. We in the North Island await with interest the report of the Waitangi Tribunal following the hearing of the Ngai Tahu claim.
At the beginning of last year middle New Zealand was basically happy about the Treaty of Waitangi. Currently the same groups has linked the state of race relations as they see them with the Treaty of Waitangi. This means that what you think about one colours what you think about the other. The effect of the publicity campaign of the 1990 Commission is to win a wider acceptance of the Treaty of Waitangi as a friendly and attractive document. There is a much higher profile of Māori and Polynesians in the New Zealand society. A look at the composition of the All Blacks and the New Zealand Rugby League team will convince you of that. What is the ideal united state for our country? In the minds of some people, diversity has become disarray. Monolingual and monocultural attitudes still govern many ideas of unity. For them the Treaty of Waitangi is a road to potential confusion and irrelevancy. Others see the Treaty as opening up the possibility of a rich and diverse unity in which we can all learn a lot.
What we have not done is to sort out what unity means for our country. Is it not better to see unity as a journey of discovery and then talk about the confidence and trust we will need along the way?
The evidence of Sir Henry Ngata before the Court of Appeal makes a lot of sense:
" a contentious matter such as the Treaty will yield to those who study it whatever they seek. If they look for difficulties and obstacles they will find them. If they are prepared to regard it as an obligation of honour, they will find that the Treaty is well capable of implementation."