Reflections on Te Tiriti o Waitangi: Part 2 (NZ Herald)

Note: Between August 2014 and May 2017 I was a regular columnist for Mana Magazine and my writing was focused on this medium, while also managing a very hectic work schedule.  Articles during this “Interregnum” were all originally published in external sources.

The NZ Herald are running a series of opinion pieces in the lead up to the 175th anniversary of the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.  Over the course of this week they are running two articles I have written providing my overview perspective.  Today’s piece is on rangatiratanga, and what it means to me.

As we approach the 175th anniversary of the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi it is appropriate that we take the time to reflect on the lessons we have learned since 6 February 1840, and set a path for a future which honours both the Maori and the Pākehā parties to Te Tiriti.  Today, I discuss what rangatiratanga means to me, and what Māori are doing to achieve it.

The idea of rangatiratanga is that as Māori we are in charge of our land, our resources, and our aspirations.  Only 6% of New Zealand remains as Māori land, with confiscations and land purchases of a dubious nature amounting to the gradual transfer of resources from Māori to British settlers.  This has been a one way transfer of wealth.  Entire regions, such as Taranaki and the Waikato, were confiscated from Māori in the 1800s without compensation.  That these two regions are among the highest value dairy producing regions in the world is an indication of the wealth that has been stripped out of Māori communities.  It cannot be disputed that our nation’s wealth was built on the back of stolen land.  The settlement money paid to Māori – some $2bn over twenty years – is only a fraction of a percent of the value of the loss suffered by Māori.

Rangatiratanga is not about carving out a set of “unique political rights” for Māori.  It is about ensuring that our communities are healthy, well-educated, and can live a good life.  Prior to British settlement, rangatiratanga was all encompassing.  Rangatira were responsible for the health and wellbeing of their hapū, and had abundant resources to provide this.  The loss of wealth has destroyed the ability of the hapū, or more commonly today the iwi, to provide for the health and wellbeing of its members.  Large populations and small asset bases means that Iwi have to be more creative, and more selective in how they assist.

Rangatiratanga is a practice.  It is about Māori living according to our tikanga, and about striving wherever possible to ensure that the homes, land, and resources guaranteed to us under Te Tiriti o Waitangi are protected for the use and enjoyment of future generations.  My main focus is on assisting Iwi and Māori-owned land trusts to grow their economic wealth to continue to pursue rangatiratanga through development.  Progress, while slow, has occurred over the past twenty years and the Māori economy continues to grow.  Iwi, driven by historical settlement packages, are delivering returns to their members through the provision of grants to Marae, Hapū, and for educational purposes.  The larger Māori land trusts are also becoming more innovative in their business development and the successful Miraka milk processing venture is a sign of things to come.

This increase in economic wealth provides Māori communities with opportunities that were previously unavailable. With increased economic wealth comes the opportunity to develop the skills and wealth of Māori, to improve the health and wellbeing of Māori, and the ability to revitalise traditional cultural and customary practices.  Economic wealth provides Māori communities with the opportunity to develop their community in accordance with their own vision, not a vision of Māori communities imposed by the Government.

Our aspirations are no different to anyone else’s.  We want good schools, good homes, good health, and good jobs.  We do not seek special rights to the detriment of Pākehā New Zealand.  We ask for the recognition of the rights that were guaranteed to us under Te Tiriti o Waitangi.  Rights such as the right to have a say in how our communities are governed and how the resources and sites sacred to us are managed.  The recognition of these rights through, for example; the Māori electorates, Māori wards on local government bodies, and the co-government arrangements established to manage a growing number of our national parks and waterways is precisely what Te Tiriti o Waitangi envisioned – a true partnership between Māori and Pākehā.

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