Emily Beausoleil makes a case for implementing the changes recommended in the He Puapua report “to more fully realise the unceded authority of tangata whenua” and give greater self-determination, equality and meaningful voice among Tiriti partners
Recent objections to He Puapua, a report of recommendations for a more Tiriti o Waitangi-led constitution, have claimed its recommendations to transfer greater power to Māori are “divisive”, “undemocratic” and might even constitute a breach of Te Tiriti. Looking at Te Tiriti, how do these claims hold up?
The te reo and English versions of Te Tiriti are so different they are now often referred to as two separate documents – Te Tiriti and The Treaty. The English translation (‘The Treaty’) claims rangatira ceded their authority to the Crown (Article One), while still retaining their ability to rule their own peoples, lands and possessions (Article Two). But the te reo version (‘Te Tiriti’) – the one that was read aloud and discussed in Waitangi, was signed by all but 39 of 540 Māori rangatira, and is given precedence by international law (contra preferentem) when such discrepancies in translation exist – says something altogether different.
Article One provides the Crown with kāwanatanga or governorship. ‘Kāwana’ is a transliteration of ‘governor’, a word used at this time to describe Sydney’s British governor as well as the Roman governor Pontius Pilate in the te reo Bible. Governorship or kāwanatanga provided the British in Aotearoa – a very small hapū in 1840 – the capacity to have a governor to oversee their own affairs and enforce British law over British subjects. In short, kāwanatanga, as it is translated in accurate English versions of the te reo Tiriti, enables non-Māori to rule over their own people in this place. And just like Pontius Pilate representing Roman law or Sydney’s British governor, this is very different than permission to establish a government or to presume to rule over all who reside here.
The meaning of Article One is made even clearer by Article Two, which affirms tino rangatiratanga, or “total political authority”, to use constitutional and Tiriti expert Moana Jackson’s definition. This is very different than the English translation of ‘possession’ or sense that this authority is only over Māori communities within a broader Crown sovereignty – and the slippery clause of Crown right of ‘pre-emption’ appears nowhere, even in poor translation, within the te reo version. Tino rangatiratanga, like kāwanatanga, was also a word known intimately by the Treaty’s translators and the Crown, appearing as it does in the Declaration of Independence (He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Niu Tireni) signed by Māori chiefs and recognised by the Crown five years earlier.
As a mother, I see a future in these proposals where my son might live in a more just, more honourable, more inclusive Aotearoa – and I hope he will be able look back with pride at how we learned, acted and changed in order to make that world possible.
Among its many considerations, the meaning of these terms of our collective commitments in Te Tiriti led the Waitangi Tribunal to conclude in 2014 that “The rangatira who signed te Tiriti o Waitangi in February 1840 did not cede sovereignty to the British Crown.” Yes, this throws a great deal into confusion and contestation: it challenges prevalent misconceptions about Te Tiriti borne of these initial conflicting translations and the greater airtime the English version has had in our schools, media and government. It also raises serious questions without easy answers about what fulfilling these Articles would require of us as a society today. But it also explains why He Puapua’s recommendations are indeed Tiriti-led.
Like the Report of Matike Mai Aotearoa (2014), He Puapua offers recommendations for constitutional transformation that enable us to better fulfil our Tiriti obligations of Māori rangatiratanga and Crown kāwanatanga. And like Matike Mai Aotearoa, it offers these recommendations not only to fulfil obligations of which the Crown has been in breach since it first began to presume sovereignty was ceded, but also so we might ultimately create a more inclusive and equal society “where Māori and the Crown enjoy a harmonious and constructive relationship and work together to restore and uphold the wellbeing of ngā tangata, Papatūanuku, and the environment”.
Te Tiriti gives us terms whereby all of us, including “others yet to come”, have a way to belong in this place. It offers us a truly generous and inclusive vision, in which we come together to share authority, and in which we can all thrive and live with honour. But this is only if we live up to our commitments. The first step in doing so is to understand those commitments – what kāwanatanga and rangatiratanga really mean.
When we understand these commitments, objections that He Puapua is divisive and undemocratic also begin to ring hollow. Changing our institutions to more fully realise the unceded authority of tangata whenua would not only fulfil our Tiriti and United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples obligations and thereby make our power arrangements more legitimate – it would also mean greater self-determination, equality and meaningful voice among Tiriti partners. As a staunch democrat as well as Tiriti partner, I can think of no more inviting or constructive vision for our collective future than that offered by Matike Mai Aotearoa and He Puapua. As a mother, I see a future in these proposals where my son might live in a more just, more honourable, more inclusive Aotearoa – and I hope he will be able look back with pride at how we learned, acted and changed in order to make that world possible.