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Speech

Ti Point

Issue date: 
Monday, 5 February 1934
Speaker: 
Viscount Bledisloe, GCMG, KBE, PC

E te iwi tena ra koutou.

I am deeply impressed and much touched by the loyal and enthusiastically cordial welcome (expressed in speech and gesture, song and dance) which this great assemblage of Natives and Europeans has extended to us both here to-day on the banks of the Waitangi River, whose waters witnessed 94 years ago the welding of the two races into one nation under the British Crown.

That the Maori Race should have signalised our modest gift to the people of New Zealand of the adjoining estate - the cradle of the nation - by these commemorative celebrations is characteristic of their unswerving loyalty to the British Crown and is a gratifying testimony on their part to the sincerity of British honour and integrity. This gathering is convincing evidence that the doubts and fears which were prevalent in another bi-racial convention, which took place in 1840 a few hundred yards from here, have been effectively dispelled, and that to-day the Maori is walking confidently in step beside the Pakeha and that the Pakeha is walking in friendship and comradeship beside the Maori. Moreover, in bringing together Maoris of different tribes and sub-tribes from all over this Dominion - from Te Reinga to Murihuku (from the North Cape to the Bluff) - this meeting is a proof that the Treaty of Waitangi has served to unify the Maori people. It has quenched inter-tribal feuds, softened ancient grudges, and above all it has for ever abolished internecine wars and thus averted race suicide. On the part of those of us who belong to the British Race this gathering affords and opportunity of renewing our obligations to the Maori people - obligations which have become all the greater since, during the intervening years, our Race has become the dominant partner in the possession and enjoyment of this country, the sovereignty of which we still hold as a scared and inviolable trust. Let Waitangi be to us all a "Tatau Pounamu" -a happy and precious closing of the door for ever upon all war and strife between races and tribes in this country - the place where all erstwhile antagonists have clasped hands of eternal friendship.

It is well to remember on the present occasion that one hundred years ago British statesmen were confronted by problems originating on the shores of this very Bay, problems which in their solution called for the pledge of a nation's faith to the Maori people. That pledge was given by Britain's then responsible ministers through the Treaty of Waitangi, Towards the beginning of the last century irregular British settlement was taking place in New Zealand. Its wild injustice called aloud for reform, and its sporadic character for regulation. The only remedy for this chaotic condition was the intervention of the British Crown. But the hands of the Crown were more than full with similar responsibilities elsewhere. India, Canada, Australia, South Africa, with their several problems and perplexities were then sources of considerable anxiety. Only the most far-sighted statesmen saw any wisdom in maintaining outposts of Empire at the risk of international jealousies and national impoverishment. Fewer still could appreciate the wisdom of adding New Zealand to these colonial problems. But the dictates of humanity and the clamant need for ordered government in this county became so insistent that they could no longer be ignored. Moreover, the possibility of some other European nation assuming control, to the detriment of British interests, was naturally not without its influence. The formidable difficulty facing Queen Victoria's ministers was the fact that New Zealand was a foreign country and outside their jurisdiction. The alternatives open to them were conquest or negotiation. As conquest with all its horrors was repugnant to the British mind and conscience, Captain William Hobson, of the Royal Navy, New Zealand's first Governor, was invested with consular powers and authorised to negotiate a treaty with the native chiefs for the cession, upon equitable terms, of their sovereignty to the British Queen. The honourable intentions of the British Government in this matter are fully and eloquently demonstrated in the instructions furnished to Captain Hobson by the Colonial Secretary, Lord Normanby, before leaving England. Eminently just in spirit, broadly humanitarian in principle, they form a document which any nation might be proud to have enshrined within its archives. How, within sight of this very spot, Captain Hobson carried out his instructions is well known. He was scrupulously careful and transparently honest in all his dealings with the Maori people. His one desire was that they should clearly understand both the pledges given to them by the British Government and their own responsibilities in accepting those pledges. In the three brief clauses of the Treaty the British Government undertook that in return for the surrender of the country's sovereignty it would ensure to the respective tribes their landed possessions, their forests and their fisheries, and that it would for ever thereafter cast the protecting mantle of British citizenship over them and their descendants. These terms were accepted, and thus the Treaty of Waitangi became the basis of British settlement in New Zealand.

Inevitably and admittedly the assumption of British authority, with the advent of different ideals and an entirely different code of ethics and of law, involved some misunderstandings and some heartburnings, but an impartial survey of the situation as it exists after 94 years of actual experience discloses the fact that the Maori people still believe that the Treaty has a "mana" of its own, and still regard it as the Magna Carta of their political rights, while the European population are resolved to fulfil faithfully their obligations to the Maori people. There is indeed, on the part of each, a determination that the Treaty shall continue to be (what has been well described as) "a pledge of security to the enterprising colonist, and a protecting garment to the unprotected Maori". How different are the sentiments of harmony and mutual trust which animate us all to-day and those conflicting emotions which stirred the hearts of our predecessors on this very spot on the 5th and 6th February, 94 years ago! The Maori people were grievously puzzled and much agitated as to what course they should pursue. Should they yield up the sovereignty of their country and come under the protecting wing of the Great White Queen? Would it, on balance, be to their advantage or would it not? That was the issue which they had to decide, and in the face of conflicting opinions and conflicting advice, no one could blame them if they approached it with doubt and fear, with mistrust and misgiving. Fortunately there was among the Maori chiefs one man who thought with the mind of a sage, who saw with the eye of a seer, and who spoke with the voice of a prophet. That man was Tamati Waaka Nene, who, after reasoning with his own people that it was now too late to turn the Pakeha away, and pleading with Captain Hobson to remain as "a Governor and a father" to them, delivered himself of the following eloquent declaration of his confidence in British honour: - "I am walking beside the Pakeha: I'll sign the puka puka," a spontaneous expression of trust which carried to the minds of his colleagues the assurance of our good faith and our integrity.

Among the European negotiators two men stand out as champions of British sovereignty - the Reverend Henry Williams and Mr. James Busby, the British Resident. What this country owes to the sterling patriotism of these two men, coupled with the intimate acquaintance of the former with the language and the aspirations of the Maori Race, is scarcely yet fully appreciated. Taking their courage in both hands they faced the opponents of the Treaty, answering argument with argument, and eventually carrying conviction not only be virtue of the strength of their case but because of their transparent integrity and the confidence which the natives reposed in their personal veracity. With the aid of such stalwart champions of righteousness, such far-sighted pioneers of civilisation and ordered progress, the advantages to both races of British sovereignty were demonstrated, and the Treaty was signed. Slowly the mists of uncertainty, the clouds of doubt, which confused the issue in 1840 have been dispelled, so that to-day we look at the Treaty with no doubting or mistrustful eyes. Far from this being the case, our minds are calm and our hearts are happy, because we know that time, the balm that heals so many sores, has softened the asperities of the past, it has clarified our vision, sweetened our memories and established an abiding feeling of trust and confidence between the two races such as can assuredly never be impaired in the days which lie before us.

The most abiding impression which this meeting calculated to convey is the almost magical effect which the Treaty has had in unifying and pacifying the Maori people. From time immemorial they have been an aggregation of mutually hostile tribes each with its own honoured ancestors, its own territory, and its own traditions. There inevitably grew up among them causes of quarrel and strife which brought about an almost incessant state of internecine war. With the introduction of firearms, and just before systematic British colonisation took place, the Maori Race seemed to be advancing towards self-extinction. The last inter-tribal battle was fought at Waikanae (Kuititanga) on the 16th October, 1839. Then came the Treaty of Waitangi, bringing with it British sovereignty, and the majesty of British law, together with the Pakeha system of adjusting disputes, and from that day to this no tribal wars have taken place.

Who can estimate the immense benefit this respite from incessant strife has conferred upon the Maori Race or what the resulting sense of security has meant to a people who are essentially cultivators of the soil? Formerly the sower never knew who the reaper would be. To-day all can sow their land in the sure and certain knowledge that to-morrow they will reap what is theirs under the protection of the Treaty and that no one will dispute their title. So, too, has their horizon been widened, for they have moved about with greater freedom, as gradually the barriers between the tribes have been broken down, until to-day we see mingling together with courtly dignity men and women who a century ago might have been engaged in deadly warfare. Indeed, less than a century ago nothing short of a miracle could have brought together tribesmen from as far asunder as the North Cape and the Bluff, but that miracle has happened to-day.

I am glad to welcome here on this occasion His Excellency, the Governor of Fiji, who has come to represent the people of his Colony, and also the representatives of the Federal Government of Australia and of the Government of New South Wales, of which for a short time this country was a dependency. Very especially do I greet the distinguished band of visitors from the delectable island of Rarotonga, children of the same traditional ancestors, Rangi and Papa, who are here to extend the hand of fellowship to their cousins across the ocean waves, and to demonstrate that "Queen Victoria's youngest child" (as the Cook Islanders like to call themselves) has never regretted the decision, which she took in 1901, to become part of New Zealand and of the British Empire.

To the beneficent teaching of the Christian missionaries we largely owe this softening of ancient animosities, this radiation of trustful friendship, this reign of peace, which are the outcome of the Treaty of Waitangi. It is but meet, therefore, that we should offer up our grateful thanks to Almighty God in that He has afforded the British Nation the privilege of being the humble instrument in His hands of bringing about so marvellous a change in the lives of His Maori people.

If there is one conclusion more than another that I draw from this gathering to-day, it is that nothing has occurred in the years which have intervened since 1840 to relive the Pakeha population of the responsibilities then solemnly undertaken. On the contrary, these responsibilities have increased rather than diminished, for in the working of that inexorable law - the survival of the fittest - the pendulum has swung to the opposite pole, and made us the dominant power in the land, and, therefore, the senior partner in the compact entered into near this spot 94 years ago. Upon us, therefore, devolves, in a larger sense, the obligation of seeing that we observe the terms of a Treaty which not only places the Maori on a footing of political equality with the Pakeha, but enables him to march forward side by side with us in social life, in education, in industry and in sport. Upon us devolves the responsibility of seeing that our Maori brethren are given the chance of living their lives with some reasonable prospect of success. Whatever capacity they have for assimilating the benefits of western civilisation should not be starved, but should be warmly encouraged. The surest way to make the Maori a good citizen and a real asset to this heaven-blessed country which you share in common with him is to train him how to use his own land to the best economic advantage rather than allow him wholly to divest himself of it. In this connection my Native Minister, Sir Apirana Ngata, has inaugurated developments of incalculable benefit to his race which will earn him the gratitude of posterity. Let us then encourage the Maori to grow his own food, to preserve the purity of his language, the poetry of his race, the romantic beauty of his folklore - to cultivate, in fact, not only the soil but also a love for the Polynesian arts of his ancestors. It would surely be a dull day for New Zealand if the charm of Maori music, handicraft and dancing were to vanish into the limbo of things forgotten or become merely the hobby of the antiquarian and ethnologist. Let us, moreover, encourage our Maori compatriots, in consonance with the advice of their late eminent Rangatira, Sir Maui Pomare, to develop in their settlements all those wholesome conditions which contribute to good health and long life, and this we shall have played a worthy part in assisting them to perpetuate their ancient distinctive nationality, which is in no way inconsistent with their status as free citizens of our great British Empire, proudly anxious with us to maintain its greatness. My distinguished predecessor, Sir George Grey, insistently urged that the most certain way to ensure full justice to our Maori people and their heart-whole co-operation in the forward progress of this country was to develop a wider knowledge among their European fellow countrymen of their language, their traditions and their outlook upon life and its problems. His sage and far-sighted counsel merits nowadays the earnest consideration of all true patriots.

It is not unusual in modern times to commit the weaker peoples of the world to the tutelage of stronger nations under and international mandate, as a means of preserving the nationality and their nationhood. Our obligations, however, to the Maori people lie deeper than any which even a mandate from the League of Nations could impose. We came to the Maoris with our hands extended in friendship, and we ourselves persuade them to entrust their future to us. Our duty then is to see that the trust which they reposed in our honour in 1840 will never be betrayed so long as our Empire endures.

Let me in conclusion express the fervent hope that a nationalised Waitangi may be instrumental in developing throughout the whole community of this Dominion a greater sense of solidarity, a deeper spirit of nationhood, based upon pride in its not unworthy beginnings, and of a past history of which it has no reason to be ashamed. The initial sources of civilisation, culture and economic development in New Zealand were two-fold and at first mutually unsympathetic - namely, in these northern latitudes the missionaries and further south the separate organised groups of British settlers under the ingenious plan of Edward Gibbon Wakefield, the far-sighted founder of prudent Empire colonisation. In consequence there has inevitably been in the past a segregation of those separate benign and salutary influences which alike have made for moral and material progress. These, while on the one hand stimulating local pride and local patriotism and fostering ever the same affectionate regard for the Mother Country, have, through their separatism, checked complete national solidarity and that healthy national sentiment which is so valuable an inspiration to all self-governing communities. Waitangi, the birthplace of this nation, now belongs to all alike, Pakeha and Maori, North and South Islanders, and the descendants and champions of both sections of its courageous pioneers. All are represented on its Administrative Board. Shall not this fact conduce appreciably to the spirit and the consciousness of nationhood?

On a spot clearly visible from the Waitangi Estate, Samuel Marsden, the pioneer of Christianity, preached his famous Christmas sermon 119 years ago to a fascinated native audience, bringing the cheerful message of peace and goodwill to a people sunk in heathen darkness. It is the earnest hope of my wife and myself that peace and goodwill between both races and all classes based upon national unity and steadfast faith in God may ever flourish and abound in this Dominion, and that Waitangi may not be without its influence in perpetuating them in days to come.

"Ka nui taku aroha kia koutou."

Maori people, you have our affectionate regards. Kia ora. Kia ora.

Last updated: 
Friday, 9 January 2009

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