Stuff apologised this week for its past treatment of Māori and tikanga Māori. Screenshot

Stuff’s apology for the inequitable treatment of Māori and tikanga Māori by Stuff and its media predecessors is so powerful, writes Dame Anne Salmond, because it recognises the Queen’s promise of equality and mutual respect for different tikanga

In 1992 and 2010, as an anthropological historian, I was asked by the Waitangi Tribunal to explore understandings of Te Tiriti o Waitangi when the document was signed (or not) at Waitangi, and other places around the country.

In 1992, I had the privilege of working with close colleagues Dr. Merimeri Penfold and Dr. Cleve Barlow, both native speakers of Māori from Te Taitokerau. Dr. Barlow was also an historical linguist who had built an impressive data-base of early texts in Māori, including Te Paipera Māori, which we used to search for key terms used in Te Tiriti and elsewhere.

Together we also investigated historical documents and oral histories about the debates at Te Tiriti signings in 1840, and the context in which these were held, in conversation with colleagues including Dr. Patu Hohepa and others.

Like many other scholars before and since, including those steeped in ancestral lore, we concluded that in Te Tiriti, the text that was debated and signed (or not) at Waitangi and elsewhere, the rangatira did not cede sovereignty to the British Crown.

Rather, we concluded, the signatories (both Māori and European) agreed to a balance of powers between Queen Victoria and the Rangatira, using the language of chiefly gift exchange.

On the one hand, in Ture 1 (the first law) of Te Tiriti, the Rangatira gave [tuku] completely to the Queen and forever all the Kāwanatanga (Governorship) of their lands; while in Ture 2, the Queen ratified and agreed to te tino rangatiratanga (the full chiefly powers) of the Rangatira, the tribes and all the people of New Zealand over their lands, their dwelling places and all of their taonga (ancestral treasures).

In Ture 3, in recognition of the agreement to the Kāwanatanga of the Queen, the Queen agreed to care for the Māori people of New Zealand, and give [tuku] to them ‘ngā tikanga katoa rite tahi’ (all and exactly equal / alike / equivalent tikanga – literally ‘right ways of doing things’) as her people of England.

In 2014 when the Waitangi Tribunal reported on an exhaustive inquiry into Te Tiriti o Waitangi (Te Paparahi o te Raki), they came to similar conclusions:

‘The rangatira who signed te Tiriti o Waitangi in February 1840 did not cede their sovereignty to Britain. That is, they did not cede authority to make and enforce law over their people or their territories. They did, however, agree to share power and authority with Britain.

They agreed to the Governor having authority to control British subjects in New Zealand, and thereby keep the peace and protect Māori interests.

The rangatira consented to the treaty on the basis that they and the Governor were to be equals, though they were to have different roles and different spheres of influence.

The detail of how this relationship would work in practice, especially where the Māori and European populations intermingled, remained to be negotiated over time on a case-by-case basis.’

As we know, after so many investigations into claims submitted to the Waitangi Tribunal, the principle of equality between Māori and European people and their tikanga was comprehensively dishonoured from the time that the first colonial government was set up.

In the 1860s, too, the Queen’s promise to care for Māori people was broken when imperial and colonial troops joined forces to dispossess iwi of their lands. 

Forget about ‘Hobson’s Pledge.’ It’s the ‘Queen’s Promise’ we should refer to when defining good conduct in relation to Te Tiriti o Waitangi. That promise was formally agreed to and ratified by all parties to Te Tiriti, including Captain William Hobson, the first Lieutenant Governor of New Zealand.

In contemporary Aotearoa, Te Tiriti is often treated as though it is largely Māori business, rather than a founding document for all New Zealanders. As our first Chief Justice Sir William Martin insisted, however, this is mistaken: ‘The compact is binding irrevocably. We cannot repudiate it as long as we retain the benefit we gained by it.’ Its agreements are enduring and binding, and backed by the honour and mana of the Crown.

This is where Stuff’s recent apology for the inequitable treatment of Māori and tikanga Māori by Stuff and its media predecessors is so powerful. Stuff, now owned and run by New Zealanders, is taking up these agreements, and working out what they mean for contemporary journalistic practice in Aotearoa.

Clearly, its not just a matter of hiring Māori journalists, although that is vital. Its also a question of how tikanga Māori might assist journalists to carry out their work with care (tiaki), integrity and honesty (tika and pono) in a rapidly changing, existentially risky world.

The same applies to governance, and the law. In Te Tiriti, promises were exchanged back and forth between the Rangatira and the Queen, and agreements reached about basic principles for managing relationships between the incoming settlers and Māori, and their ancestral ways of living, in a spirit of equality and mutual respect.

As Sir William Martin recognised, the integrity and honour of the Crown in New Zealand depends on upholding those promises. There will be areas of relative autonomy, as Ture 2 of Te Tiriti indicates, while as Ture 1 states, Kāwanatanga stretches across the land. Ture 3 makes a promise that governance will be a site of equality, where all New Zealanders and their ancestral legacies are respected and cared for.

While successive governments have delegated the task of remedying past breaches of the Treaty to the Waitangi Tribunal, this is not the same as grappling with the implications of Te Tiriti for contemporary governance in Aotearoa.

If one looks at the current Cabinet, for instance, it can be seen that the executive branch of the Crown in New Zealand is embodied in Māori and non-Māori ministers alike, who serve all New Zealanders.

As is increasingly recognised, however, a sole reliance on British and Euro-American precedent is not adequate for governance and the law in New Zealand.

While demographic weaving has long been happening in Aotearoa, even a casual glance at current social statistics indicates that representation is not enough to ensure equitable outcomes for Māori.

Nor do token gestures make a real difference, except to breed cynicism.

Living up to the Queen’s promise of equality and mutual respect for different tikanga, and weaving these together in ways that benefit all New Zealanders is much more challenging and profound.

In areas of shared life, including law-making and governance, the media, relationships with land, waterways and the ocean, the treatment of children and the teaching of our history in schools, we still have a long way to go, but the journey is exciting.

In Ture 3 of Te Tiriti, the Crown made a promise that in Aotearoa, Māori and non-Māori would stand tall together. Except for those who enjoy domination, its hard to see a downside in that.

Dame Anne Salmond is a Distinguished Professor in anthropology at the University of Auckland, and 2013 New Zealander of the Year.

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