Surrendering the Treaty

By Ross N Himona


(article published in “The Republican”, September 1992)


Yet again selected Maori "leaders" wend their way to the Capital, this time to haggle over the Treaty of Waitangi and half a fishing company.


After 140 years of constitutional government (or unconstitutional, depending on your point of view) the price they gain, and pay, has greatly inflated; little else has changed. Last century selected "chiefs" made the same pilgrimage. They sold their people's (and others) lands for a pittance, and sold out their people. They went home sometimes with a minor Government position, sometimes a uniform, and in time Government pensions followed by impressive Government supplied memorial stones over their graves.


By Robert Muldoon's time selected "elders" gained a seat on the Board of Maori Affairs or a Maori Land Advisory Committee (and control of some Maori Affairs funding), a paltry few thousand dollars for their favourite good cause, perhaps a post office in their village, and for some a knighthood or damehood. At Government expense they lived the high life; travelled by air and taxi, dined and slept in second rate Wellington hotels. They were seen to confer with Ministers of the Crown. They had nothing to sell except their compliance.


David Lange and Geoffrey Palmer changed all that. They consulted with selected "kaumatua", succumbed to the pressure of two decades of urban Maori activism and radicalism, and listened to the century and a half old Treaty of Waitangi grievance. They made a couple of legislative concessions, and unwittingly unleashed legal and constitutional forces they could not control. In the process the price of consultation and compliance inflated.


Selected "iwi authorities" took responsibility for the delivery of Maori Affairs programmes, and selected "negotiators" gained access to huge grants to cover their legal and other costs. The devolution of Government resources to selected incorporated "iwi" was promised. The pilgrims once again had something to barter with; this time it was someone else's Treaty rights. Geoffrey Palmer bought time out with ten percent of commercial property rights in fish. It cost about $110 million.


The task of restoring the old controlled and imbalanced relationship has fallen to Jim Bolger. Along with Doug Graham and Doug Kidd he negotiates with selected "iwi representatives" and "iwi negotiators", trading "full and final settlements" for claims and Treaty rights. About $150 million for half a fishing company. There is much more to come, and the costs to Government will be high. But nowhere near as high as conceding real long term constitutional gains to Maori people.


However the monetary cost to Government is not really important.


The significance of this process of high profile negotiation is that Government is appropriating the language of the Treaty debate, and perhaps the Treaty itself. And in this they have compliant and willing partners; defined for the purpose of this exercise as "iwi". The irony of the whole situation is that despite the high cost of the fishing settlement, and future settlements, Treasury is still ahead. Vote: Maori Affairs is being cut so severely that the savings over the next ten to fifteen years will more than compensate for the cost of "full and final settlements". And when the large but short term monetary gains to Maori have dissipated, the next generation of selected pilgrims will once again have nothing to trade but their compliance.


From my perspective, working as part of my Marae, striving against all odds to better the condition of our large hapu and its many poverty stricken whanau, nothing will have changed. Our traditional rights as the real guardians and users of pre-Treaty land and fisheries resources will still not have been acknowledged. We will probably have seen few, if any, of the spoils. And we will still be poor.


Our selected leaders, chiefs, elders, kaumatua, negotiators and iwi representatives, whom we never see, hear or speak to, will still control all the resources, meagre as they are. The price we have paid is our land and our fisheries, any hope of constitutional equity, and our poverty. The price they pay is their subservience to the political ringmasters in Wellington. We retain our pride.


This very subjective analysis flows from my office in rural Hawke's Bay. Objectivity is just about impossible when one is submerged in subjective reality. From my office in Wellington things do look different, for there have been many quite remarkable gains over the last decade which I shall write of in future issues. But my overriding concern is that despite the many recent advances, our central analysis, based on the Treaty of Waitangi and indigenous rights, is about to fail us once again. Perhaps it is based too much in the desire to regain lost ground, and not enough in a vision of Maori society beyond that.