Back to top anchor
Speech

Tawa College

Issue date: 
Tuesday, 27 May 1997
Speaker: 
The Rt Hon Sir Michael Hardie Boys, GNZM, GCMG, QSO

Mr Murray, Mrs Aspey, members of staff, 6th and 7th formers of Tawa College:

It's a pleasure to be here this morning at this very fine school. I have certainly heard a great deal about it, and about the achievements of those who have been to it, but I have not until now had the opportunity to see it for myself. I am going to date myself, and confess that when I was at Wellington College, Tawa College did not exist. But neither did a lot of other things we take for granted, like television and space travel and computers. And in those days, we had rather different perceptions and understandings, particularly about ourselves, about us New Zealanders.

That was partly because we didn't know a great deal about our history. I knew more Roman and French and English history, than I did about New Zealand's past. Most New Zealanders are still learning about that, and many have much yet to learn, and to come to terms with, and to respond to. Mr Murray suggested that I might explain why I think that; and I am very glad to do so, because the issues I am going to talk about are not going to go away, and your generation is going to have to make its contribution to their resolution.

I have brought with me a gift I prize very much. It's a tokotoko, a walking and talking stick, which Maori orators use to great dramatic effect as they speak. It's not an art I have acquired, though. This was given to me by the Maori Queen, Dame Te Ata-i-Rangi-Kaahu, on my first visit to her historic marae, Turangawaewae, at Ngaruawahia. It is carved from a fallen branch of the sacred pohutukawa tree at Kawhia, to which, legend has it, the Tainui canoe was moored at its first landfall a thousand years ago. The gift, I was told, moors me to Tainui. I have brought it because it symbolises what I want to say this morning.

At Turangawaewae and at the other marae I have visited, I have experienced the great respect, even affection, the Maori people have for our Queen and her representative the Governor-General. The reason for this goes back to 6 February 1840. That of course was the day when Captain William Hobson, acting on behalf of the Queen, Victoria, signed the Treaty of Waitangi, and some 46 Maori chiefs signed it too. There was, however, some opposition among the chiefs who were gathered there that day, and again, later, as copies of the document were carried about the country for others to sign. They were worried that they might lose control of their land. But the assurance they were always given in response was that the Queen was pledging her honour, and so their interests would be protected by the Crown. Twenty or so years later, when it became clear that this was not happening, deputations of Maori travelled to London to urge the Queen to ensure that the promise was kept. But by then British attitudes had changed, and the government of the day would not let them see her.

Even so, Maori people still regard the Treaty as a personal compact with the Sovereign. Legally it is not, and never has been, and before very long after it was signed, there was a fairly general view that it was not morally binding either. But in recent years, our national leaders have come to recognise that the Treaty did create a strong moral obligation; and that, now that we are an independent nation, it is binding on the conscience of the Crown, through our elected government.

Captain Hobson came here in order to establish British sovereignty - in other words, to gain supreme authority over the land and its peoples. This was in order to protect the interests of those who had already settled here, and of those who were wanting to come. And Maori people were keen to see some form of British presence, as a protection against speculative land purchasers, and in some cases against their more aggressive neighbours. And everyone wanted to keep out the French, who were showing considerable interest in this country.

Hobson came with very clear Instructions. These were in part based on something that had happened 5 years before. In 1835, James Busby, who then had the title of British Resident, had called a meeting of northern chiefs, and they had signed a Declaration of Independence. The British Government had acknowledged this, and that meant that Maori ownership of the land was recognised at international law. And so Hobson was instructed that he was to proclaim British sovereignty only by agreement of the Maori, by a willing cession or transfer, and that he was to conduct land dealings in good faith, and not to permit Maori to enter into transactions that were injurious to themselves. The Treaty was drawn up with all this in mind. But it did not work out that way.

Because most of what went wrong concerned land, it's very important to understand Maori people's attitude to land, their relationship with it. Land was not only their economic and social base, but as with other indigenous peoples, it had, and has, a spiritual dimension. It has been put this way: "It is part of our link with our ancestors of the past, and with the generations yet to come. It is an assurance that we shall forever exist as a people, for as long as the land shall last." And so Maori, even as they signed the Treaty, were determined that their land was not to be taken from them without their agreement.

The first problem was one of translation. The Treaty was originally written out in English, and then translated into Maori. As I am sure you know, there are three sections, or Articles. By the first, the chiefs ceded to the Queen "absolutely and without reservation, all the rights and powers of sovereignty" which they exercised. By the second Article, the Queen guaranteed to the chiefs and the tribes "the full, exclusive and undisturbed possession of their lands and estates, forests and other properties". By the third, she extended to them her royal protection, and granted them all the rights and privileges of British subjects. The problem for the translator was that there was no Maori word that conveyed the full meaning of sovereignty, and so in Article 1, he used the word "kawanatanga," which comes from the English word "governor" and was used to refer, for example, to the Governor of New South Wales. And in Article 2, for the expression "full, exclusive and undisturbed possession," the translator used "te tino rangatiratanga," which means full chieftainship, and so was probably closer in meaning to "sovereignty," than "kawanatanga." Further, the Article 2 word "and other properties" was translated as "taonga," which means a highly prized possession, or treasure, and readily extends to such intangibles as culture and language. For what does any people treasure more than its culture and its language? - for these are what give them their identity.

The second thing that went wrong concerned the land. What was prominent in Hobson's Instructions, and was dominant in the minds of Maori, was quite quickly cast aside. Despite his Instructions, Hobson proclaimed sovereignty over the whole of the country, even where the chiefs had not signed the Treaty. New Zealand thereupon became a British colony. When that happened, there was a rush of migration. New Zealand was promoted in Britain as a land of limitless opportunity, with cheap land available for all, and so migrants came in their thousands. And when the promised land was not available, because the Maori owners did not wish to sell, the pressure grew to obtain it without their agreement. This was achieved in various ways, but the greatest injustice was done by the confiscations: raupatu. This was the penalty for what was labelled as rebellion, but was often resistance to the wrongful exercise of government authority, usually in relation to forced land acquisition. However, the most severe confiscations were in the Waikato, where the establishment of the King Movement was seen as rebellion.

The King Movement was an attempt by Maori to set up in a formal, united way, the full chieftainship promised by Article 2 of the Treaty, particularly in relation to the ownership or possession of land. The government of the day saw it as a challenge to sovereignty, which it wasn't, and sought to repress it. With the confiscation of the lands on which the people depended, the Movement was badly weakened, but it was not destroyed, and today it remains as a uniting force for many Maori people, and has the full support and respect of the government. The Maori Queen is a particularly gracious and wise leader, and it was largely due to her influence that the injustice of the Waikato raupatu was put right by an act of Parliament to which Queen Elizabeth herself gave the royal assent in 1995.

The unhappy reality then, is that the promises of the Treaty were not honoured. Maori lost control and ownership of most of their land, certainly the most productive. They were given little say, if any, in the management of their own affairs. And their culture was suppressed. Children were even punished for speaking their own language in schools. Their economic base destroyed, their thriving communities dispersed, what had been a proud people, meeting and treating with the new arrivals on equal terms, became marginalised, feeling and often being seen as third class citizens in their own land. Maori numbers rapidly declined, and at one stage it was thought the race could die out altogether. Certainly all hope for the language was given up.

The fact that that has not happened - that there has been a great resurgence of Maoridom and of Maori cultural identity - says a lot about the resilience of the people themselves. And let us not think that our history has all been bad news. Settlement brought great benefits, and there were many people who fought for recognition of Treaty rights and obligations. For a long time, theirs was a minority voice, but it is no longer so. " Honour the Treaty," a slogan that we hear a lot now, but that goes back more than a hundred years, has been taken to heart by the great majority of New Zealanders. But there are still those who ask "Why?": there are still those who ask what relevance this document - signed so long ago, in such different circumstances - what relevance can it possibly have today?

I would answer them by saying that this Treaty, quite unlike any other compact made by a colonial power with an indigenous people, is this nation's founding charter. It legitimised European settlement. It gave our Pakeha ancestors the right to come and live here. Equally it gave our Maori forbears, our tipuna, the obligation to accept the newcomers. It set out the terms on which that right and that obligation were to be exercised. It made of the two peoples one nation, committing them to a common destiny of living together. And because any living together can succeed only with understanding and tolerance, and by adapting to one another and one another's needs, it presents a constant challenge.

The first challenge is to learn our history, so that we can understand not only what happened in the past, but even more importantly what its effects have been, even down to the present. I've given you only the briefest sketch: there is plenty of good material to read.

The second challenge is to put right the wrongs of the past. We cannot turn the clock back. Nor does anyone need to feel guilty for what other people did in the past. But as a matter of justice, of keeping broken promises and restoring broken relationships, we - as a society - must endeavour to make amends. By setting up the Waitangi Tribunal, which investigates grievances and recommends remedies, the Government has enabled that to be done. The Tainui settlement shows how it can be done, in a sensible, realistic way. The Waikato tribes were given land and money. They are using it wisely for the educational and economic benefit of their people. Yet there is a long way to go. Many claims have yet to be dealt with. But I am confident they can be, and will be.

The third challenge lies in working out what other Treaty undertakings mean in present-day life. "Taonga" is a good example. An Act of Parliament now declares that te reo Maori, the Maori language, is an official language of New Zealand. It is being widely taught. Some non-Maori are learning it, and many, but by no means a sufficient number, are accepting the minimum obligation of pronouncing it properly. There has been an exciting resurgence in Maori culture. No longer are powhiri, haka and poi simply a tourist curiosity. They are becoming more and more a familiar part of New Zealand life.

But what about te tino rangatiratanga? There is much talk these days, some of it rather silly, about Maori sovereignty. Our official attitude to Maoridom has usually been pretty paternalistic. Maori have had little opportunity to control their own affairs. Who are we Pakeha to say that we know best what is best for them? But how far should this concept of "chieftainship" go, in this now-multicultural society of the 20th and 21st centuries? Maori radio and television? A separate Maori justice system? A separate Maori Parliament? There are some tricky questions here, which I am not going to attempt to answer, but which all New Zealanders need to think about and talk about.

The fourth challenge the Treaty presents to us is simply this: that we New Zealanders understand and respect each other, our cultures, our values, our ways of thinking and doing. There are in 1997, many cultures in this country, and what I have said applies to them all. But it particularly applies to understanding between Maori and non-Maori, simply because Maori are the tangata whenua, the first people, and they are entitled to have the later comers understand and respect what is important to them.

Article 3 of the Treaty, which spoke of Maori having the rights of British subjects, was really a promise of equality. True equality can come only when our respective cultural values exist, side by side, on equal terms. Europeans brought to this land the philosophy, the faith, the literature, the architecture, the music, of Middle Eastern and European civilisation- the cultural heritage of three thousand years and more. All this is part of the cultural heritage of all New Zealanders.

And there is also the culture, different in content and form and expression, but rich in legend and symbolism, that has come down to us from the great Polynesian navigators and their descendants, as they forged their life in a new land of mountain and forest, far different, and far away from, their home of Hawaiki.

This too is part of the cultural heritage of all New Zealanders, just as is the art, the music, the literature, the dance, the carving and the sculpture that New Zealanders have created since they became entitled to call themselves by that name, on 6 February 1840. It is, I believe, one of the glories of life in this land that we all inherit, and can all rejoice in, this great wealth and diversity of experience.

These, you've probably realised, are exciting times - not just because of the incredible advances of science and technology, but also because they confront us with the most crucial challenge of all. And that is to live in peace and harmony with our fellow human beings, starting right here, in our own Aotearoa, New Zealand.

Thank you for asking me to come, and for listening to me so patiently. I wish you all every success and joy in whatever life brings to you.

Last updated: 
Friday, 9 January 2009

Help us improve the Governor-General website

Your feedback is very important in helping us improve the Governor-General website.

2 + 10 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.