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?

She explored possible answers in Part 2Part 3, and Part 4, and in this fifth and final instalment looks at the partnership between Māori and the Crown, arguing the Government has lost sight of the promise of a future based on reciprocity and mutual respect.


Ironically, in seeking to reshape the future, the government and its advisors have set aside the chance to experiment with whakapapa and ideas of complex systems, turning instead to old colonial habits of mind, including Cartesian dualism.

As I argued in Part Two of this series, 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 binary logic and a market economy, rather than tikanga Māori.

No one should be surprised by this, since this interpretation was arrived at by lawyers, whose training is immersed in reasoning and precedents from Europe. Again, not surprisingly, He Puapua, a think piece about the future of this ‘partnership,’ follows a similar logic.

This is plain from its vision statement, which focuses on the relationship between ‘Māori’ and ‘the Crown:’ “Māori and the Crown [will] enjoy a harmonious and constructive relationship and work together to restore and uphold the well-being of ngā tāngata, Papa-tuānuku and the natural environment.”

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Like the idea of a ‘fiduciary partnership,’ this framing is based on an assumption that the categories ‘Māori’ and ‘the Crown’ are separate, and distinct from each other. Given the composition of the current Parliament, however, which includes Māori as well as non-Māori politicians in Cabinet and across all major political parties, this is clearly not the case. 

He Puapua also assumes that ‘Māori’ will be represented by their own governance structures, and ipso facto, that ‘Māori’ and ‘non-Māori’ (who are remarkably absent from the document) are distinct and separate categories of person.

Given the entanglement of whakapapa over the past 200 years or so, however, and the composition of the contemporary population of Aotearoa New Zealand, this is also clearly not the case.

Just as ‘the Crown’ represents all New Zealanders, so whakapapa includes all tīpuna, not just those who happen to be Māori, and whanaungatanga includes all family members. The relational networks of whakapapa and whānaungatanga are not ethnically exclusive, nor restricted by essentialist ideas of ‘race’.

By way of contrast, a binary framing that proposes that ‘Māori and the Crown [will] enjoy a harmonious and constructive relationship’ has the perverse effect of excluding all ‘non-Māori’ from the relationship, leaving it for ‘the Crown’ to speak on their behalf.

Debates over He Puapua are bound to be divisive, if only because of these exclusions, which include most of the population of Aotearoa New Zealand. The chances of the vast majority of New Zealanders agreeing to being set aside in this way are negligible, and the prospects of harmony arising from these discussions are slight.

At the same time, many critics of He Puapua fall into the same trap as its authors, offering binary analyses and accounts of whakapapa that draw on Western ideas of ‘race’ and ‘ethnicity’.

Whakapapa has nothing to do with ‘race’. Here, a person is constituted by the sum and quality of their relationships, with other life forms as well as with other people, including tīpuna and whanaunga from different backgrounds and places.  

This is very different from the sharp-edged categories generated by binary logic, based on Yes/No choices – eg. Iwi/Kiwi, Māori/the Crown, Māori/non-Māori, which cut across the relational networks of whakapapa and whanaungatanga.

Ironically, such thinking is deployed by He Puapua and its critics alike. It readily translates into denials of shared humanity, in racism for example, in ‘culture wars,’ or inter-ethnic antagonisms that flare into violence and hatred, as we have seen in many countries around the world.

This has happened, and still happens in Aotearoa New Zealand, during the New Zealand Wars, for instance, and the hurts and harms caused by everyday racist behaviour. 

The promise of Te Tiriti, couched as it was in the language of chiefly gift exchange, was to enhance the mana of all the parties, and to bring people and their tikanga together, as Ture 3 clearly states – a future based on reciprocity and mutual respect. 

With He Puapua and its critics, however, the Government has lost sight of this promise – as also happened after Te Tiriti was signed, leading to racial antagonism, violent conflict, and bitter and lasting anger. By focusing debates around Te Tiriti on this document, the Government has gone down a rabbit hole, with no ready exit in sight. History should teach us not to keep on making the same mistakes.

The whole series by Dame Anne is here in one combined article.

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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