A Statement on the Treaty of Waitangi in Today's Perspective

1 Sep 1995 | JUSTICE

During 1995 especially our country has been faced by the question of justice in the settlement of grievances resulting from past failures to implement the requirements of Te Tiriti o Waitangi / The Treaty of Waitangi. All New Zealanders who know something of the history of the last 155 years admit that justice has not been done and that the partnership, signified by the two languages at Waitangi, has not been honoured. Confiscated or appropriated land continues to be a cause of conflict in parts of the country; tino rangatiratanga has not been recognised; frustration at the lack of progress has deepened.

This frustration has found expression in the tension of this year's Waitangi Day ceremonies. It is a frustration that has been also expressed in occupation of land at Moutoa Gardens and other places, and in symbolic gestures such as the attack on the landmark of One Tree Hill.

There has also been frustration on the part of the current Government, which in an attempt to find a permanent solution to grievances against the crown, put forward the 'fiscal envelope' proposal. The thorough rejection of this proposal at successive hui throughout Maoridom, was a rejection of a process which appeared to place expediency before proper consultation and partnership. The spirit of the Treaty demands that the Government rectify this mistake.

In the midst of all this frustration there has come the glimmer of hope in the signing of the Tainui settlement. Not only the settlement, but the reconciliation it has fostered, has been a bold and positive step forward, the result of goodwill and negotiation on both sides. Yet this settlement has also brought to the fore the changing circumstances in which many Maori find themselves. It is the common good of all Maori that must be sought, and solutions must be inclusive not just of iwi, but also of hapu, and of those who find themselves outside of tribal structures. These emerging problems demand new solutions, and a new openness from Maori leaders.

And so the air of frustration continues. Progress is slow, and solutions are not easy. Yet the temptation towards a cynicism that wonders whether there will ever be a lasting reconciliation between the Crown and Maori, must be met with a genuine commitment to the partnership that was promised in 1840.

The Church was present in 1840, and is still present in 1995. Through its social teachings, the Church seeks to ensure that the dignity of persons, and the common good of all, are reflected within the economic, social and political structures of society. Where there exist situations of conflict the Church seeks that social and economic life be directed toward just and peaceful solutions.

On the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, the Catholic Bishops of Aotearoa reaffirmed the Church's commitment to promote bicultural relationships in our multicultural society. In 1993 the Church leaders of New Zealand asked in their Social Justice Statement, that whichever political party formed the next Government, it would carry out the recommendations of the 1986 Royal Commission on the Electoral System (1986:112). Now in 1995, the Catholic Bishops reiterate this recommendation that Parliament and Government "should enter into consultation and discussion with a wide range of representatives of Maori about the definition and protection of the rights of the Maori people".

And so we wish to say:

To the Government:

Please, keep trying to address the grievances of the past with integrity and consultation. The indigenous people of our country, the Maori, deserve better than unilateral arrangements and imposed settlements for genuine, acknowledged wrongs. Treaty of Waitangi issues are not about party politics. They are about honouring with goodwill the covenant entered into by the Crown and Maori, on which this nation is founded. They are about the right of the first occupants to land, and a social and political organisation which would allow them to preserve their cultural identity. They are about a people still searching for the sovereignty guaranteed them 150 years ago.

We ask then that you look boldly to a new process of consultation on the meaning and application of tino rangatiratanga and kawanatanga as encompassed in Te Tiriti.

To the Maori People:

You have been patient over a long period of time. Your patience is being stretched to breaking point. Please remember that as well as legislative and policy changes being required by the demands of justice, attitudinal change is also required among many New Zealanders. Know that there is great goodwill for the resolution of past wrongs, but that growth in understanding is still required.

To the Maori Leaders:

Yours is a prophetic duty - to ensure that the justice arising from settled grievances is justice to be shared among all Maori. Authority is exercised legitimately only when it seeks the common good of the group concerned. Just as in 1840 at the signing of the Treaty, it is the good of all your people that must be foremost in your minds and at the heart of your efforts.

To New Zealanders generally:

We all need to know our history and the different legacies it has left to Maori and Tau Iwi. In many parts of the world, indigenous peoples face the loss of land, of language, of culture and identity. In the Treaty of Waitangi, we find the moral basis for our presence in Aotearoa New Zealand and a vision that sets this country apart. We hold in our hands a great treasure - the opportunity to create a society that truly honours the rights of its indigenous people.

We have an opportunity to heal wounds that have been present for too long. The Treaty of Waitangi was built on respect for persons and respect for their diversity. There is a way forward. It lies in continued goodwill and open recognition that there are many paths that we as a nation can embark on as we strive to realise the bicultural foundation of our society. Together, we must find the way which meets the demands of justice and of solidarity among peoples.