Distinguished Professor Dame Anne Salmond reflects on some key questions she raised in an earlier Newsroom column over how Aotearoa New Zealand can design a new institutional order which takes account of the Treaty of Waitangi and whakapapa

At the end of this column, Iwi vs Kiwi: Beyond the Binary, which Newsroom published on May 4, the author ended with a series of big picture questions for New Zealand:

– What would a whakapapa-based approach to Te Tiriti look like, in a country where an increasing number of citizens have whakapapa that include Māori, Pākeha, Pasifika and many other non-Māori forebears and whānaunga?

– Rather than Māori vs non-Māori, could ancestral ideas of lines of descent as strands that remain distinct, while being woven together to create a fine cloak, a meeting-house, a family or a nation, provoke new ways of imagining relations within and among individuals and groups across Aotearoa?

– Is there an opportunity to rethink identity in a whakapapa framing that includes other living systems and life forms – as in the Whanganui River and Urewera Acts, for example?

– Would it be possible to bring together ideas of whakapapa and complex systems in designing new institutional forms of order in Aotearoa New Zealand, as well as relations between people and the wider world?


In looking for answers to these questions, we might to turn to Te Tiriti itself, the Treaty of Waitangi. Although in contemporary debates, the English draft of the Treaty is much cited, Te Tiriti in Māori is the authoritative document, since this is the text that was debated and signed by almost all parties in 1840.

At that time tikanga (Māori ways of thinking and doing things) were dominant, although Māori people were struggling to deal with increasing numbers of arrivals from Europe and elsewhere, in a world that was rapidly changing.

Some of the rangatira who signed Te Tiriti were more knowledgeable about Europeans than others, having dealt with missionaries and other settlers at close quarters for decades. While some had travelled to New South Wales, England and elsewhere, where they met Governors (kāwana) and monarchs, returning to report on their adventures, others had much less contact with the incoming arrivals.

Similarly, some of the European participants in the Treaty debates were more familiar with Māori than others, having lived among them for decades, while others were novices, including the proposed new Governor, William Hobson.

For all of these reasons, Te Tiriti has to be regarded as an experimental document, based on partial understandings on all sides. In many ways, it still is, despite the huge effort invested in Treaty research, debate and formal proceedings over the past 40 years.

In contemporary times, in relations between Māori and other New Zealanders, Te Tiriti is increasingly prominent in legislation, legal decisions and public discussions.

When Te Tiriti was signed, tikanga largely framed the proceedings. Since then, its interpretation has increasingly become the province of lawyers and politicians, and modernist framings have become dominant, focusing on rights, property and money, rather than relations among people, the land and the ocean.

Likewise, although Te Tiriti is expressed in the language of chiefly gift exchange, and was negotiated as an alliance between Queen Victoria and the rangatira of various hapū, it has been legally reframed as a binary ‘partnership’ on a corporate model between Maori and the Crown.

Despite these neo-colonial, neo-liberal rewritings, Te Tiriti still stands. It is salutary to return to the Māori text, and to hear what it says.

As is now widely agreed, in the first Ture (law) of Te Tiriti, when the rangatira gave absolutely (tuku rawa atu) all the Kāwanatanga of their lands (te Kāwanatanga katoa o ou rātou whenua) to the Queen, this did not amount to a cession of sovereignty.

All the same, this promise was not trivial, extending as it did all the powers of a Governor (Kāwana) over their ancestral lands. Some of the rangatira who participated in the debates and their predecessors had stayed with Governors in Port Jackson and Norfolk Island, and were aware of the considerable powers delegated to the Queen’s representatives.

In Ture two of Te Tiriti, when the Queen ratified and agreed to ‘te tino rangatiratanga o o ratou wenua o ratou kainga me o ratou taonga katoa’, she promised to uphold the absolute authority of the rangatira and Māori people generally over their lands, dwelling places and taonga.

From the point of view of binary logic, this looks like a paradox.

Under tikanga, however, where whakapapa relationships with waterways, mountains, forests and harbours entangled, different kin could activate different kinds of use rights, and different kinds of mana could co-exist in the land.

For insight into how Ture 1 and 2 powers – Kāwanatanga and rangatiratanga, the Governor and the Rangatira – were intended to engage with each other, we can turn to the third Ture of Te Tiriti.

Here, in exchange for their agreement to Kāwanatanga, the Queen promised to look after ‘nga tangata maori katoa o Nu Tirani’ (all of the everyday persons (pl.) of New Zealand), and to give to them ‘nga tikanga katoa rite tahi ki ana mea ki nga tangata o Ingarani’ – all the tikanga exactly equal to those of her subjects, the people of England.

According to the Williams dictionary, in 1840 ‘maori’ meant ‘normal, usual, ordinary;’ and ‘nga (pl.) tangata maori o Nu Tirani’ described the normal, usual inhabitants of New Zealand as individuals. The use of ‘Maori’ as a noun to describe an ethnic group came later.

Likewise, in the Williams Māori dictionary, ‘rite’ is translated as ‘equivalent, balanced, alike’ – not ‘identical’:


1. a. Like. I rite ahau ki ia manu, ki ia manu; manu iti, manu rahi.

2. Alike. Kia rite koutou te haere.

3. Corresponding in position, number, etc. Ka pakarua iho te wahi i rite ake ai tona iringa ake. Ko nga rangatira i rite tonu: e toru nga matua, tokotoru hoki nga rangatira.

4. Balanced by an equivalent, paid for. Kua rite noa ake i a au te kakahu.

5. Performed, completed, fulfilled. Rite tonu etahi o nga kupu i a ia.

6. Agreed to. Heoi ka rite enei korero i a ratou katoa.

This is where the ‘Hobson’s Pledge’ denial of plurality is mistaken

The third Ture (the ‘Queen’s Promise’ is a pledge of equality (not identity) and balance between the tikanga of the everyday inhabitants of New Zealand and the Queens’ subjects, the people of England (ie the settlers) as individuals, and of equal return in the exchanges between the rangatira and the Queen.

This is no doubt why, in subsequent years, rangatira kept travelling to England to remind the royal family of the promises made by Queen Victoria to their ancestors.

In their report on ‘Te Paparahi o te Raki’ claim, the Waitangi Tribunal concluded that under Te Tiriti, the details of these relationships were intended to be worked out over time, especially as the whakapapa between those already in the country and the newcomers intertwined.

In practice, however, European understandings prevailed. Given Cartesian either/or logic and the Great Chain of Being, it was assumed that there could be only one sovereign over a country, and only one owner (or group of owners) with exclusive rights over a block of land. Hence the New Zealand Wars, the confiscations and the Native Land Court to enforce this kind of reasoning.

Likewise, since the Treaty of Waitangi Act was passed in 1975, Te Tiriti has been interpreted as establishing something akin to a fiduciary ‘partnership’ between two parties (‘Maori’ and ‘the Crown’) – a reading based on Cartesian logic and a market economy, rather than tikanga Māori.

This is perhaps why Treaty settlements have focused so much on money and property, rather than on achieving equal, balanced relationships among Māori and other New Zealanders and their tikanga, and with land and sea. Likewise, it is often assumed that Māori interests can best be served by replicating corporate structures or establishing new, parallel bureaucracies, despite their colonial origins.

The difficulty here is that corporates and bureaucracies are typically, top-down structures with power and wealth focused at the top, that define land, sea and people as ‘resources’ in a market economy – very different from the reciprocity and chiefly generosity associated with rangatiratanga, and its kin-based relations with land and sea.

Exceptions include Te Urewera and Te Awa Tupua Acts, in which land and waterways are recognised as powerful ancestral beings, linked with kin groups by whakapapa. The recent Whakatōhea Foreshore and Seabed decision may be another case in point, with its ‘pou tara-ā-whare’ idea of a house sheltering different kin groups.

Rather than lawyers and politicians dominating the discussions about relations between Māori and other citizens, maybe debates about Te Tiriti should be more like discussions on a marae, in which a range of voices (both tangata whenua and manuhiri) can be heard.

As is often said, the Treaty still speaks. As increasing numbers of New Zealanders learn te reo, perhaps we will no longer need to rely on neo-colonial frames of reference, but listen to the original language of Te Tiriti instead.

At that point, we might grasp the idea of whakapapa as an all-embracing network in which all life is included, which might help us rise above divisive quarrels over ownership and control based on the Great Chain of Being, in which people rule over Nature.

It might also transcend the Cartesian vision of a fractured world in which everything is commodified (even fish & fresh water), and ‘Kiwi’ are radically split from ‘Iwi,’ and people from ‘the environment’ and each another.

Such alienated, extractive habits of mind have wreaked havoc on life forms, living systems and communities across the planet. Using them to try and heal the harms of colonialism could be a final defeat.

Experimenting with different tikanga, on the other hand, as promised in the last Ture of Te Tiriti, might open up a new kind of future for our children and grandchildren. Why not try, when the alternatives seem so bleak?

Dame Anne’s complete series can be read together, here

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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