The symbolism of renaming the country ‘Aotearoa New Zealand’ could then be enhanced by reflecting the Te Tiriti o Waitangi partnership in our constitutional arrangements, writes Dr Carwyn Jones.

A petition to include Aotearoa in the official name of our country recently stirred up a little bit of murmuring on social media. And it got me thinking about the symbolism of the change and what that might suggest about the Māori Crown relationship.

The man who launched the petition, Danny Tahau Jobe, reportedly said his reason for wanting the change is that “Both names together will officially confirm/enhance nationhood and uniqueness in the world”. Ultimately, it seems to me, any such change would be essentially symbolic. But symbolism can be very important, particularly when it relates to matters deeply tied up with identity.

Here, the inclusion of Aotearoa in the country’s official name makes an important link to Indigenous language and culture. It would signal that a part of our uniqueness and our nationhood is connected to the way the nation state was founded, the way Indigenous and settler communities agreed to come together in a Treaty partnership while recognising and respecting each other’s authority.

Symbolism is most powerful, of course, when it is supported by and reflects real substance. So what might be the substance or substantial change that would support and reflect the Treaty partnership and the Māori Crown relationship in 2019 and beyond?

Last year, a new government agency was launched called the Office for Māori Crown Relations: Te Arawhiti (‘the bridge’). The new office brings together a range of existing teams, including the Office of Treaty Settlements, the Settlement Commitments Unit, and the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Team.

There is certainly some value in bringing these teams together and seeing their collective work as driven by giving effect to the Treaty partnership that underpins the Māori Crown relationship. But if Te Arawhiti is going to deliver on its potential, it must be more than a re-brand of the Office of Treaty Settlements.

The real potential for improving the relationship and delivering real results for both Māori and the Crown will only be realised if the implementation of the Treaty partnership is freed from the contestation of historical breaches and settlement and instead becomes part of business as usual throughout government. If co-governance of the natural environment or the co-design of social service delivery mechanisms effectively provide for greater Māori participation and deliver better outcomes, there is no reason for the Crown to wait until it is negotiating a settlement of historical claims before initiating those conversations and relationships with Māori communities.

And an even better realisation of the symbolism of ‘Aotearoa New Zealand’ would be to reflect the Treaty partnership in our constitutional arrangements. We can think of a constitution as essentially being the rules that regulate the power of the state and the operation of government. Constitutions

can be written down in a single document or made up of a range of different sources, such as the New Zealand constitution is. Significantly, constitutions give expression, not only to the structures and procedures of government, but also to the values the community thinks should underpin government. Giving expression to the values symbolised by ‘Aotearoa New Zealand’ could be done by developing models for the exercise of public power based on Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the partnership it established.

Fortunately, there has already been significant thinking about what such models could look like. Matike Mai Aotearoa – The Independent Working Group on Constitutional Transformation, chaired by Professor Margaret Mutu and convened by Moana Jackson, facilitated over 250 hui between 2012 and 2015, seeking views on how to “develop and implement a model for an inclusive Constitution for Aotearoa based on tikanga and kawa, He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Niu Tireni of 1835, Te Tiriti o Waitangi of 1840, and other indigenous human rights instruments which enjoy a wide degree of international recognition”. Matike Mai Aotearoa presented a report on its findings from these discussions at Waitangi in 2016.

The report identified six indicative constitutional models that aim to recognise the different spheres of authority held by Māori and the Crown, as expressed in Te Tiriti o Waitangi, as well as providing appropriate mechanisms to allow the Treaty partners to come together on matters of common concern/interest. The models are outlined at a conceptual level and some provide for the Māori Crown relationship to be primarily expressed at a national level, others contemplate regional assemblies. The report recommended that a process of dialogue, involving Māori, the Crown, and other communities across the country, be undertaken to consider constitutional transformation and, in particular, the six indicative models as potential basic frameworks.

So, if we’re serious about ‘Aotearoa New Zealand’ as an idea, engaging in the kind of constitutional dialogue proposed by Matike Mai Aotearoa would be one way to put some substance behind the symbolism.

Dr Carwyn Jones is co-editor of Indigenous Peoples and the State: International Perspectives on the Treaty of Waitangi and was a member of Matike Mai Aotearoa.

Dr Carwyn Jones is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Law at Victoria University of Wellington.

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