The Waitangi deception
As a nation, we have been deceiving ourselves about the Treaty of Waitangi. Given that it's such an important document in New Zealand’s history, I think it would be good if a few things could be made clear. So much of the debate around the Treaty comes down to misinformation. Here are the three biggest myths surrounding the Treaty that I think we as New Zealanders must address:
1) The Treaty was signed for the benefit of Maori.
Statements are frequently made about how Maori would still be living in tribal villages if it were not for the British. Or perhaps the French would have controlled Aotearoa. The fact of the matter is we cannot know. We can’t say for sure that things would have been worse off for Maori if they had just been left alone. What we do know is that Britain profited. Massively. Under the Treaty, all land for sale had to be first offered to the Crown. This effectively gave Britain a monopoly on land in New Zealand which it used to buy up a large portion of the country and sell it on to British colonisers at huge profit. It was as if Maori had sold their winning lotto ticket before checking the numbers.
Fast-forward to the present day and Maori are submitting Treaty claims for land, water and the seabed and foreshore and so on. Remembering, of course, that this is land that they never agreed to sell. The objection we hear from New Zealanders is that the land should be for the benefit of all New Zealanders. Maybe New Zealanders have benefited enough already. Maybe it’s time that Maori were allowed a little recompense. The fact of the matter is that, in the scheme of things, they’re not asking for much.
2) Maori are untrustworthy racists.
In a world where you live as a minority group, sometimes you have to make a lot of noise to make yourself heard. Maori standing up for their rights has come to be seen by the rest of New Zealand as a call for inequality. There are certainly a few who may go too far but this is a small minority. Let’s look at the seabed and foreshore issue. When the decision in the Marlborough case was reached it allowed iwi the rights to pursue claims to the seabed and foreshore at the Maori Land Court. Beaches were not being taken away from New Zealanders. There was no apocalyptic end to our holidays. And yet there was fear - enough that Labour saw the need to legislate. Instead of educating New Zealand, the government took the step of perpetuating the myth that Maori are untrustworthy.
Let’s say for a moment that the Foreshore and Seabed Act had not been passed. Maori had been allowed to take their claims to the Maori Land Court. First, they would have had a hard time proving a continuous claim dating back 160 years since the signing of the Treaty. Second, had they done so, it would apply only to certain areas where the claim was being made. Finally, I don’t believe that access would have been prevented to the public because of some racist Maori agenda. The time for legislation was when and if there was a real problem – not just because of racist fear from the public. National’s Marine and Coastal Area Act may have been approved by the Maori Party but it was nothing more than political manoeuvring. It continued the myth that Maori can’t be trusted, and Hone Harawira was the only one willing to say so.
At the end of the day I trust Maori to look after our land, much more so than John Key and his mates from the oil and mining industries.
3) Maori were not the first in New Zealand, therefore they don’t have a claim.
There was no one distinct group that settled New Zealand. Groups of Polynesian peoples arrived in Aotearoa about 1300 and over the next 500 years formed the culture we know as Maori. It is wrong to imagine a fully formed culture arriving in Aotearoa ready to colonise a new land as the British did. Maori culture was formed from different groups and families living in Aotearoa at the time. A more dangerous version of this myth states that Maori invaded and wiped out the Moriori people. Some people even throw in an accusation of cannibalism for good measure. These are arguments which people fall back on as a last resort. As untrue as this myth may be, it still has some influence and is unfortunately very resilient to education.
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