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Sunday, 16 November 2014

Waitangi Tribunal: hysteria versus nation building

On Friday the Waitangi Tribunal published its first report on Te Paparahi o Te Raki Inquiry. The media immediately declared it to be a "landmark decision". I'm sure there will be a lot of ink spilled over this report (it's hardly a "decision" - the Tribunal issues reports, it doesn't make decisions like a court of law, although it has mana).

Unfortunately the media have now framed the report as being a major shift, as if it changes the nature of sovereignty in New Zealand. It doesn't. It greatly frustrates me the media don't seem to be able to distinguish between an acknowledgement of history (i.e. that the Maori rangatira signing the Treaty did not see it as ceding sovereignty) and contemporary reality. 

As Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson said:
"The Tribunal doesn't reach any conclusion regarding the sovereignty the Crown exercises in New Zealand. Nor does it address the other events considered part of the Crown's acquisition of sovereignty, or how the Treaty relationship should operate today."
I haven't read the full report yet (I've only read the summary) but it addresses the issues around the Declaration of Independence of 1835 (He Whakaputanga) and how it relates to the Treaty of Waitangi, Te Tiriti o Waitangi. I'm going to read the report over this coming week, as I expect thanks to the hysteria now generated by the media, it will be getting a lot of attention...

What saddens me most about all of this is that this report is really a chance to engage in nation building. Accepting that the Rangatira who signed the Treaty (not all iwi did) believed that they would be equals to the British-appointed Governor, as representative of Queen Victoria, is hardly a revolutionary step. The Government of New Zealand is still legitimate in its assumption of sovereignty, as the Treaty Negotiations minister notes, because of other events.