The shiny, soft-cover Treaty Debate, Angela Ballara

Living Relationships: Kokiri Ngatahi. The Treaty of Waitangi in the New Millennium
eds Ken S Coates, P G McHugh
Victoria University Press, $39.95,
ISBN 0 86473 330 5

An Unsettled History
Alan Ward
Bridget Williams Books, $34.95,
ISBN 0 908912 97 8

On one of my shelves is half a row of late 1990s, smallish, shiny, soft-cover books, mostly starkly black or warningly red, their titles picked out in dramatic, contrasting colours. Some, however, are in matt-finish rather than high-gloss, in more subtle colours, and sport Maori motifs or cute koru to draw in the doubters or convince the reader of their respectability.

Their titles sport the words “Waitangi”, “Justice”, “Morality”, “Maori”, “Truth”, “Treaty”, “Pakeha”, “Honour” and “Sovereignty” in an endless shuffle. Some of them ask questions of the “What do they really want?” variety; others pose tricky conundrums in punning mode, reminiscent of the worst of the news titles regularly offered up by the press. The whole half shelfful, I feel, does not contribute much to the dignity of my book collection, its pot-boiling character underlined by the speed at which many of its items disappear from bookshop shelves, if not, so far, from mine.

The apparently ephemeral nature of such books belies the importance of the debate they continue: the relations, past, present and future, between Maori and the Crown, and between Maori and non-Maori in New Zealand. (It would be nice if publishers exercised some kind of “intrinsic worth”, rule-of-thumb value judgements, ignored economics and differentiated between the transitory and the serious by publishing the latter in hardback.)

What is the relationship between these polemically rabid books and the two under review? In some senses both the latter are in their very different ways – one looking inward and largely concentrating on the past and the other looking mainly outwards and to the future – a reaction to the reactionary worst of the row on my shelf. The books on this shelf claim to discuss “common sense” views of ethnicity, the Treaty and issues of sovereignty; they deride opponents as “experts” and “academics”, locate the driving force of the Maori “grievance industry” in the advocates of “other disadvantaged groups” such as women, homosexuals and the disabled, question the ongoing relevance of modern Maori, or traditional iwi and hapu cultures and deny, on the basis of Maori urbanisation and/or fractions of “Maori blood”, that there are many “real” Maori left. In these books historical accuracy is a casualty of opinion. Why do some people “buy” them? Because they appeal to the assimilationists of the “I-am-not-a-Pakeha, I-am-a-New-Zealander” school, and they pretend to justify a quick, cheap fix to complex multi-faceted difficulties.

Superficially, Alan Ward’s book and the Ken Coates/PG McHugh essay collection fit right in, one black and glossy, the other red-matt and both soft-cover. But Ward’s book (in Part II) departs from the polemics and rhetoric common to much of the soft-cover, glossy debate on the future constitutional role of the Treaty of Waitangi and the future directions of Crown/Maori and Maori/non-Maori relations. It is a brief but thoroughly competent history of the various kinds of land transactions in New Zealand which saw Maori lose all but a minute proportion of their land in a process substantiated by Ward as legalised rapacity. This section, and indeed his whole book, is marked by the moderation of his argument and by the careful scholarship characteristic of all his work.

Ward’s Part I directly addresses the worries of the unengaged non-Maori majority: that the Treaty claims process is weakening the nation; that a self-sustaining grievance industry is being perpetuated by interested parties; that the process lacks clear, attainable goals; that race relations are being damaged by the Treaty process. Ward argues that two substantial communities co-existing in one country need to establish a principled basis for their co-existence, and that the Treaty is capable of providing it. He points out that in claiming under the Treaty Maori are working within the political compact made in 1840. He shows that in the past most of the most influential Maori movements, such as Te Kotahitanga and the Ratana Church, turned away from separatism and committed themselves to working through mainstream politics. He reassures by pointing out that the Tribunal supports the position that under the Treaty sovereignty was passed to the Crown, that self-management or limited autonomy is a reasonable aim, and that the Tribunal’s most influential figure, Chief Judge, now Justice, E T Durie, has consistently provided moderate and responsible counsels on this and other issues.

Ward, always the non-partisan historian, details two exceptions to this moderate course: the issue of “tuku whenua” and the use of the word “holocaust” to describe military action against Parihaka in the Taranaki report. Tuku whenua, which phrase recalls the pre-contact chiefly power of gifting land for use by others without alienating it, is accepted by the Tribunal in the Muriwhenua report as the basis for the understanding Maori had until 1865 of early land transactions; they were thought of as non-commercial, or not only commercial, being contingent on an ongoing reciprocal relationship between “seller” and “buyer”. Although Ward himself provides many instances of the distinctive, reciprocal Maori understanding of early land transactions in some areas even after 1840, he considers it alarming that the Tribunal failed to consider historical evidence that European commercial and legal connotations of the term “sale” had been adopted into most Maori thinking well before 1865.

He also considers the use of the term “holocaust” unwise, even though its primary meaning does not specifically relate to the Jewish experience prior to and during World War II, but indicates “a case of large-scale destruction, esp. by fire or nuclear war” (The Oxford Encyclopaedic English Dictionary, 1991). Perhaps in his anxiety to remain unbiased, Ward leans a little too far in this case: in a small-scale society the Maori experience at Parihaka in 1881 might well have seemed holocaustic.

Ward provides the reader with a detailed history of the period from the 1960s to the 1990s, tracing the course of events which led to the establishment of the Waitangi Tribunal, the political genesis of the legislation which gave it retrospective powers, the resulting expansion of claims and developments in jurisprudence which made its task monumental. He traces also the developments which led to the establishment of the Crown Forest Rental Trust, the Office of Treaty Settlements, and the establishment and turbulent history of the Waitangi Fisheries Commission and issues concerning sea fishing and inland waterways. He discusses the “fiscal envelope”, its apparent but not total demise and the implications for the settlements not yet reached, pointing out the pitfalls inherent in an inadequate time frame and total settlement figure. He discusses which claims are justified, which are strained or manipulative, and why some groups succeeded while others failed to achieve a mandate from their people. This is all essential reading for anyone who wishes to understand the Treaty debate, the claims process and the nature of the “sovereignty” many Maori claim.


The Coates/McHugh collection of essays is closer to the polemical rather than researched model of book. Coates sets the New Zealand situation squarely in the context of international developments which have seen the grievances of indigenous peoples, colonised by European powers in earlier centuries, being settled late in this century in ways more or less satisfactory to the indigenous groups. To a degree this reviewer finds excessive – as placing too little emphasis on the strong, continuous tradition of active Maori protest and political activity related to the Treaty throughout the 19th and 20th centuries – Coates ascribes change in the New Zealand situation to a major shift in international thinking. This change has seen aboriginal resistance to assimilation in many countries, efforts towards strengthening indigenous identity through programmes fostering limited or shared sovereignty (autonomy or self-management), efforts to preserve indigenous languages, and greater respect for indigenous cultures in the face of doubts about the sustainability of western industrialisation. The late 20th century has seen the development of an international forum examining indigenous rights in the shape of the United Nations draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, formulated in 1993.

Coates, whose writing style is occasionally repetitious and fragmented, makes (and re-makes) many points which should be taken up and studied by all of us, but particularly by those who make policy decisions about issues related to the Treaty and Maori autonomy. The resolution of historical grievances can be vital to cultural and linguistic survival and this is often the ultimate aim of the indigenous groups, while governments often have a different objective, namely the extinguishment of indigenous claims in order to remove political barriers to the exploitation of resources (coal, oil, the hydro-electric use of rivers etc). For these reasons and for political stability, governments often want immediate, full and final settlements, while indigenous groups seek the means (power, money and autonomous status) to preserve their cultures through ongoing, sustainable arrangements as of right, allowing their people to regard themselves as members of a respected ethnic group identity rather than as the reluctantly tolerated appendages of another dominant entity.

He notes that the frequent lack of indigenous clarity or singularity of purpose has often been made an excuse for government inaction, and warns that governments can outrun the support of the dominant sector of society only at their democratic peril. He notes too that the capacity of indigenous peoples to manage their autonomy is seldom discussed, a point taken up by McHugh and Ward in their discussions of models of mandated groups. Coates explores the potential of the Tainui settlement model, one of the first in the world to take place in an area with considerable non-indigenous property interests, rather than in remote or rural districts. His references constitute a very useful bibliography of indigenous developments outside New Zealand.

McHugh’s essay pays greater attention than Ward or Coates to theoretical issues. It is also more contentious, provoking sharp responses from some of the commentators in their essays, most notably from Apirana Mahuika of Ngati Porou, for whom whakapapa lies at the heart of tribal identity, and to whom McHugh’s discussion of post-structuralism is a pathway to disorder. McHugh speculates that “the rigidity and sternness with which aboriginal discourse today maintains its traditional political form, the tribe, is itself a culturally absorbed legacy of colonialism.” To a greater extent even than Coates, McHugh positions the New Zealand experience as an outgrowth of international developments. To him, New Zealand’s claims’ pathway fosters dependence and leads to a focus on structures – tribes versus the state, tribes versus the individual – and on historical rather than actual forms of cultural organisation.

McHugh considers that if relations between Crown and tribes are focussed solely on claims, the outcome will be the achievement of a result rather than the formulation of a framework for an ongoing relationship. Since Crown and tribes must inescapably relate to each other, McHugh would prefer to see less emphasis on full and final settlements, and more on dynamic agreements allowing for future development. In other countries the recognition of the inherent right to self-government has focussed on the consent of the governed. In the United States judicial recognition of residual tribal sovereignty means that internal sovereignty for Native American peoples poses no strain on the nation as a whole but that indigenous rights are derived from the tribe. In Canada the recognition and protection of individual, customary rights of the whole indigenous or ethnic group rather than its component tribes means that individuals may have treaty rights as descendants despite lacking current membership of First Nations. McHugh would like to see New Zealand go the Canadian way, which he considers has gone further in dealing with demographic change than the US model.

There is a great deal more in this book that provides useful models and an agenda for the new millennium. To this reviewer, the surprise lay not in the perception and depth of McHugh’s and Coates’s papers, nor in those of the accompanying commentaries, but that this book came about through a felt need by the Ministry of Justice for some fresh thinking. It is a sign of hope for the future of race relations in this country that a government department’s policy unit can take part in a calm discussion of internal Maori autonomy or self-determination.

Angela Ballara’s book, Iwi (Victoria University Press), was reviewed in this year’s March issue.

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Posted in History, Māori, Non-fiction, Politics & Law, Review
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