Pakeha and the Treaty: Why It’s Our Treaty Too
Random House, $27.95,
I read Snedden’s Pakeha and the Treaty while diligently chomping my way through two books from a distinctly different genre: No More Clutter! and How to Love a Nice Guy. Although academics are not supposed to admit it, I quite like self-help books. They’re good for a laugh and – from among pages of pop psychology – they can offer small tantalising insights. I borrowed the Clutter book from the local library, and the other was a humorous garage-sale gift from a friend. Subtexts: you’re in trouble (with clutter, with men), but it’s understandable and reasonably common and easily resolved with a few anecdotes, checklists and moments of honest personal insight. Despite Snedden’s title Pakeha and the Treaty, which suggests a serious treatment of a complex issue, jumping between these two self-help texts and Snedden’s wasn’t as jarring as one might imagine.
Like self-help books, Pakeha and the Treaty is easy to flip through. It’s readable – indeed skimmable – precisely because it relies on a whole series of broad brushstrokes and generalisations. (There are no references to other writers or texts.) This is not heavy reading: if a reader genuinely desires a deep historical understanding of the complexities of the Treaty and the relationship of Pakeha to that document, there is already a wealth of superb and interesting books and other resources. This is light reading geared for the train, bath, or quiet Sunday. It is for readers who want a quick answer to the “why” question – why it is “our Treaty too”.
Pakeha and the Treaty has another quality of self-help books: it engages in a playful and friendly discipline. One reads a book like No More Clutter! for no more than an indulgent smack over the hand: the book is to be comfortable and frothy; corrective, but without alienating the target audience. After all, self-help books are aimed at narcissistic readers who recognise themselves in the title. So while Snedden attempts to dismantle the concept of “Maori privilege”, he spends little time illuminating the multiple layers of Pakeha privilege. Certainly shaming and public floggings are unhelpful strategies in the fields of love and race relations, and so just as No More Clutter! and How to Love a Nice Guy will never tell the reader they are a slob or unlovable, Pakeha and the Treaty (rightly) refuses to point a finger at the “Pakeha” reader. While challenging the mythology of a brown gravy train is always a good thing, I wonder about the extent to which this book lets its intended readership feel happy and warm about the Treaty without having to do the uncomfortable work of interrogating their complicity with – and benefit from – the breaches that continue to occur.
Therefore, like self-help books, Pakeha and the Treaty is premised on a shared fantasy: No More Clutter! trades on dreams of efficient clutter-free living; How to Love a Nice Guy appeals to desires for a great love life; and Pakeha and the Treaty imagines – well – what does it imagine? Certainly Snedden is clear we are meant to understand the opening lines of the preface as a national vision: “When I am asked what it is to be a New Zealander, that image acts as a starting point for many of my cultural touchstones.” In a book about the Treaty, one imagines that vision might include tangata whenua, but there are none in this “starting point”. (This does not bode well for a book about the relationship between “Pakeha” and “the Treaty”.)
Snedden describes a photo in which his wife and children are sitting outside “our house” with “our [unnamed] neighbours, recent refugees from Cambodia, and Naresh Soma, his wife Usha, and their kids.” “Affixed to the house” is a nuclear-free sign, and “the scene is relaxed, cheerful and inclusive”. Later in the book this attractive national vision – a multicultural collage outside “our house” (and “our” here always means Pakeha) – reemerges as a suggestion that the Treaty was, in fact, signed between Maori and Pakeha. He writes:
as Pakeha, we claim our belonging here through having descended from the settlers who agreed to the Treaty. The same Treaty that, by joint agreement of tangata whenua and tauiwi, gives all subsequent migrants and their communities the right to call this place their own.
In this sense, the Treaty seems an ideal template for his multicultural “inclusive” vision – but unfortunately for Snedden, the settlers from which he claims descent did not, in fact, agree to the Treaty: the Treaty is a “joint agreement” between hapu and the Crown. The problem with not recognising this distinction is that if the Treaty is no longer between the Crown (now represented by the nation-state) and Maori, a logical short-circuit can occur, in which the relationship between Maori and Pakeha happens within the auspices of the state. Voilà! A multicultural national vision – complete with compelling multicoloured photograph metaphors – has squeezed out the crucial relationship between tangata whenua and “the rest”. Maori need not sit in front of Snedden’s house, smiling along, after all. Suddenly, and paradoxically, on the basis of a mythical Treaty relationship between Maori and Pakeha that is trumped by the umbrella of the nation-state, there is a new “we”. “Our society” is made up of “Maori, Pakeha and Pacific peoples” (one wonders what has happened to the brothel-running market gardener Chinese neighbours, Cambodian refugees and Indian migrants of his earlier adulthood). Snedden’s national vision is certainly “inclusive” – no one could argue with that – but this isn’t the same as engagement with tangata whenua; indeed it has rendered them invisible.
The thing is, I’m not sure whether this is a self-help topic: perhaps it is inconveniently stubborn of me to say this, but the difficult thing about the Treaty is that it is paralysing, it is complex. Now, I am a big fan of Pakeha who write to each other about the Treaty, and in particular when they write to one another about issues such as the seabed and foreshore, land claims and so on. Ultimately, however, Snedden seems to suggest that “the Treaty” is in fact about his contract with the nation-state, his vision. At the end of the day this is not so much about Pakeha and “the Treaty” as it is a book about Pakeha and New Zealand.
Alice Te Punga Somerville (Te Atiawa) teaches Maori, Pacific and indigenous literatures in the School of English, Film, Theatre and Media Studies at Victoria University of Wellington.
Knowing what we’re about
For about six years in the early 90s I ran seminars on treaty awareness within the Customs Service. This was not the thankless task you might imagine. On the contrary, it was a learning experience for both parties. Invariably someone asked: “Why don’t they teach us this stuff at school?” A good question, and one I always asked my group to think about.
Patrick Snedden, who speaks regularly and publicly on the same matter to any group interested, makes the same point: “One of the characteristics of this debate is that it is less a matter between bigots and liberals, than one between those who are actively trying to understand our history and those who don’t think it makes a jot of difference.” Or, as someone once remarked, if you want to know where you’re going you need to know where you are; if you want to know where you are, you have to know where you’ve been.
This book is a very helpful elucidation of where we are now in the light of where we have been more recently, from someone who has been actively involved in matters pertaining to the activities of the Waitangi Tribunal. Which is to say that it’s nice for a change to encounter someone who knows what they’re talking about on this subject.
It is also a response to National leader Don Brash’s “Orewa speech”. That speech demanded an articulate Pakeha response and Snedden has gone some way towards providing one. In doing so, he makes the crucial observation that what Dr Brash is seeking is an end to debates about the injustices suffered by Maori so we can leave “all that” behind us and get on with, presumably, more important things. This is to miss the point absolutely, not to say deliberately, because I have bad news for Dr Brash – there is no end to “all that”. Maori have settled for far less than full reparation on the implicit understanding that their manawhenua and tino rangatiratanga will be recognised as a key component in what it means to be a New Zealander for the foreseeable future.
Snedden emphasises that there are two very good reasons for adopting this approach to Maori-pakeha relations. First, starting in the mid-60s, Maori made it increasingly clear that they were not going to tolerate being treated as second-class citizens in their own land. By the time of Bastion Point in 1978 and the 1981 Tour (the latter having little to do with apartheid and much to do with Maori-Pakeha relations in this country), many non-Maori New Zealanders agreed with them. Even those who did not could see that we needed a new approach. The Waitangi Tribunal and Office of Treaty Settlements offered one. This was a politically bi-partisan conclusion, and Snedden rightly gives full credit to those such as National’s Doug Graham who in government made a commitment to ensuring that it happened, when there were temptations to do otherwise for cynical political advantage.
But even more to the point, the two decades of experience since have been a valuable lesson for the understandably sceptical (provided, that is, they were willing to see it, and not all have been). The process actually works. Snedden gives example after example, particularly in the health field, of the positive outcomes when people have been willing to take the risk and try to meet our Treaty obligation to recognise Maori tino rangatiratanga. Perhaps, unwittingly, we have stumbled on a solution.
But there was always going to be a risk involved. Anyone who is familiar with the comprehensive political attitude surveys of the last two decades – and they have been legion – will know that they have one feature that consistently stands out. There is a deep divide between Maori and non-Maori over Treaty settlements, and a well of resentment relating to what many of the latter see as the advantaging of Maori this entails, however unjustified that feeling may be. Sooner or later someone was going to be unable to resist the political advantages to be gained from exploiting that resentment, and sure enough somebody has played the race card.
It’s not a new trick. Robert Muldoon was a past master at it, nor did it begin with him. It has been the stock in trade of some of our nastier prime ministers down the decades: William Massey was never averse to beating the anti-Catholic drum; Sid Holland was a raving anti-communist. I thought that we’d grown out of all of that, but apparently not. Snedden is to be congratulated for having the fortitude to speak out against it at a time when it is by no means popular to do so in the Pakeha world.
But having said that, I also want to enter a caveat. There’s always a danger in being an enthusiastic rucking forward in any game, and politics is no exception. Sometimes you get it not quite right. I read what Snedden had to say about the foreshore and seabed with close attention because his views demand to be taken seriously, and he seems to have mistaken the nature of the debate. To his credit, and unlike most of the participants in that squabble, he has clearly read the decision of the Court of Appeal from which it arose. But what he has failed to note is that the customary basis upon which the court reached its decision was not Maori customary practice, but English customary practice in the form of the common law.
There are a number of ironies surrounding that, if one has an awareness of our 19th century history. But crucially it also makes all the difference in understanding the government response to the court’s decision. Snedden has dropped the ball on that one. This is not a matter of tino rangatiratanga (even if it ought to be), but a matter of one law for both people, and this time, almost uniquely, to Maori advantage. But that’s a cavil. We are at a crucial point. Snedden calculates that if we keep on track and do not allow ourselves to be derailed by silly political games, we can make considerable progress in resolving Maori-Pakeha conflicts. I agree. But I also agree with him that the consequences of losing our nerve are horrendous, and I fear for our future if we do.
Tony Simpson is a Wellington writer.