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.
In November, the Waitangi Tribunal released its first report in the Te Paparahi o Te Raki district inquiry in which it discussed the meaning and effect of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. The Tribunal found that in signing Te Tiriti, Māori did not cede their sovereignty to the British. While Māori have known this to be the case since February 6, 1840; the finding sent shockwaves through Pākehā New Zealand. The cosy myth that Māori simply handed over the keys in 1840 was shattered.
The Crown’s claim to sovereignty in the present day, why emphatic, has yet to be fully debated and tested. Claiming sovereignty is not the same as exercising sovereignty; and the exercise of sovereign powers is not the same as a legal right to exercise that sovereignty. If Māori never gave it up, just how did the Crown come to acquire it? It is not good enough for the Crown to simply assert its right to sovereignty without setting out the legal and factual basis for its claim.
For the Hapū of Ngāpuhi, the finding will frame the remainder of their claims and settlement process. As we prepare to celebrate the 175th anniversary of the signing of Te Tiriti, the ability of Ngāpuhi hapū to exercise their tino rangatiratanga continues to be undermined by the Crown. The Government’s insistence on a single settlement covering Hapū from Whangarei through to Kaitaia has sown divisions within the confederation and resulted in many years of discussions, arguments, negotiations, and Tribunal hearings. For the 125,000 Ngāpuhi, internal divisions do not form a strong foundation for the establishment of a Iwi entity that encompasses the aspirations of all its members.
With a potential settlement upwards of $250m there is a lot at stake with this settlement. As a single settlement, it will be the largest redress provided to an Iwi and will turn Ngāpuhi into one of the five largest Māori entities in the country. There is a lot of potential with an asset base of that size, and even a conservative portfolio of term deposits will return upwards of $10m per year. However, while $250m is a large in pure dollar terms, it will be one of the smallest on a per population basis and at the same time, we should not place too much hope on this settlement being the driving force of much needed economic development in Te Tai Tokerau. Settlements have to meet the needs of both current and future generations, and the development of the infrastructure required to begin this investment will take a number of years.
Like every other Iwi and Hapū group in Aotearoa, the Hapū of Ngāpuhi deserve an enduring settlement that recognises their individual aspirations. No Hapū should be forced into a settlement without their consent. To do so goes against not only the principles of the Treaty, but the very text itself. The right of Tino Rangatiratanga guaranteed under Te Tiriti o Waitangi needs to be honoured.