Tā Tipene O’Regan’s Waitangi address at Ōnuku

Ngāi Tahu Treaty Commemoration Hui

Ōnuku Marae, Akaroa
6 Feb 2019

He Taumata Kōrero nā Tā Tipene O’Regan
Kāti Rakiamoa, Kāi Te Ruahikihiki,

Kāti Kuri , Kāti Waewae me Kāti Irakehu
Upoko, Te Rūnaka o Awarua

Kā mihi ki te Kāwana me tana hoa (Tauranga Moana/Takahanga Kaikōura). Mihi ki a Piri hoki.

Mihi ki kā Mayors and Councillors

Kā Rūnaka o Kāi Tahu me Te Kāiwhakahaere

Kā tākata hou – Our new fellow citizens (te wāhaka tuatoru o Te Tiriti)

It is generally held to be sound advice never to open an address with an apology – so I won’t.

I will, instead, tender an explanation. After some thirty years of delivering addresses on Waitangi Day I find it something of a challenge to avoid repeating myself. There is also the factor that some of you, a diminishing number I regret to note, have listened politely to most of those thirty something speeches. Thus, out of consideration for you and a steadily failing capacity for innovation on my own part, I propose to take refuge instead in a re-arrangement of old themes. That is the explanation I offer in the absence of an apology!

On this date twelve months ago I delivered what was declared to be my final Waitangi Day address on my own marae at Awarua. There was, and are, good reasons, both medical and domestic (with the domestic argument being, of course, the more forceful), as to why I should retire from public speaking. My resolve for finality and the closing of my oratorical book has been broken, however, and I have consented to exhumation.

Churchill observed that:
“In politics one should not commit suicide as one might live to regret it.”

From long experience, I can assure you that is equally true of Ngāi Tahu tribal politics except that I do not regret my decision to consent to my own exhumation. Why not? Because it offers me a public opportunity, Your Excellencies, to pay tribute to your respective personal contributions to the Treaty processes which we celebrate today.

Dame Patsy, your contribution to the settlement in Tauranga Moana was notable and widely respected. Your support, Sir David, in the long-drawn and hard-fought struggle to reclaim the lands at Takahanga, Kaikōura, on which the remarkable ‘Maru Kaitātea’ now stands, will not easily be forgotten. I could, as well refer to the reclamation of Tītī Island Title and the statutory recognition of our traditional Rūnanga as another two areas of difficulty on which your considerable legal intellect has alighted on our behalf. Rere atu kā mihi o Kāi Tahu ki a kōrua mō ēnei mea!

Kāti mō tēnā wāhaka! Kā huri ahau ki te kaupapa o tērā!

From August 2011 till November 2013 I was privileged to act as co-Chair with Professor John Burrows, of the Constitutional Advisory Panel. Essentially, we were tasked with engaging in a nation-wide conversation with a broad and representative cross-section of New Zealand society to find what our people wanted by way of constitutional arrangements – how did they want New Zealand to be?

The most evident result of all the structured inquiry and administrative and academic effort was that most people, Māori and Pākehā, had practically no idea of what they did want Aotearoa /NZ to be in constitutional terms. On the other hand, though, they had some pretty clear notions of what they didn’t want!

Of course, everyone was in favour of fairness and equality and being richer (although this was usually expressed modestly or in ‘Kiwi code’). Interestingly, meetings in St. Heliers with conservative middle-class Aucklanders generated similar patterns of response to meetings on our marae in Bluff or amongst urban Māori people in Hastings. It was, however, also evident that Māori groups tended to engage more easily with concepts derived from a Treaty dialectic – although, admittedly, only when provoked by questions. Virtually all participant groups, Māori, Pākehā and migrant, however, had absolutely minimal knowledge or understanding of New Zealand’s constitutional arrangements.

It is important to note, though, that this near-total absence of knowledge or understanding has never been a barrier to the formation of political opinion or to views of public affairs generally! Despite the notion that a sentient and well-informed electorate is the theoretical cornerstone of all our high-flown views about democracy, practically no democratic society anywhere in the world manifests this much-quoted, but rarely evident, characteristic.

Contemporary discussion of ‘Fake News’ and ‘Alternative Facts’ only sharpens the view on any prospect of informed and considered public opinion.

To, yet again, resort to Winston Churchill:
“The best cure for a too-confident view of the virtues of democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter!”

It is important, though, to avoid an overly cynical view of our society and what passes for its political culture. Whatever we think of the quality of our media journalism, or our politicians it’s only fair to say that New Zealanders would have a very low tolerance for the extremes of informational chicanery now common in other comparable societies. And – reverting to our Constitutional Advisory Panel – a lot of people were very positive about participating in the conversation about our Constitution and our Bill of Rights and did so with evident good-will, however sceptical they were that there would be any attention paid to their views. In the event, of course, their cynicism was more than justified!

When the Panel was announced an enraged right-wing and racist blogosphere ventilated at length about a devious State-sponsored device to enhance the constitutional status of the Treaty of Waitangi. Members of the Panel were posted on white supremacist web-sites wearing eye-patches to indicate their “one-eyed” character and a lot of hate-mail was generated – virtually all of it around the Treaty and perceived Māori “greed”.

In the event, they need not have wound up their anxieties so much. Māori opinion on the constitutional status of the Treaty turned out to be reasonably evenly divided across three major options.

  • There were those who wanted the Principles of the Treaty firmly embedded in a single-document written Constitution and able therefore to have the force of Superior Law.
  • There were those who didn’t want the Treaty in any constitutional statute which could be modified by the power culture’s Parliament having a “bad-hair day” – this group had a profound distrust of the State and its processes. Another took the view that the Treaty was too tapu to be exposed to the grubby hands of Parliamentarians and ‘dog-whistle politics.’ This grouping was supplemented by those who were anxious about passing final authority to “non-elected Judges.
  • Then there were those who wanted the Treaty to sit outside the Constitution somewhat like the American Declaration of Independence which is not part of their Constitution but more of a reference point to it.

As I have indicated, although the informational level underpinning the conversation might have been lacking, the positions arrived at in discussion, however instinctual, were substantially at odds with the opening assumptions of the white supremacist lobbies and their blogosphere of a mere three years before when we set out on the task. Both Māori and Pākehā opinion had shown showed itself as being measured, considered and civil – whilst there’s much more talking to be done it was, nonetheless, a conversational beginning marked by mutual courtesy. In my view, it provided a useful vignette of what the term ‘Civil Society’ should look like!

In contrary vein, the infamous 2004 political speech entitled ‘Nationhood’, at Orewa, created a media firestorm that was almost successful in changing the Government of the day! It managed to tumble the Clark Labour Government into the ill-considered Foreshore and Seabed mess and create the NZ Māori Party. My substantial media file on the Orewa speech offers an extraordinary accumulation of insight into the various psychoses that have historically infected Kiwi culture and which have left so much scar tissue on our heritage.

Consider, if you will, the comparative impact of the most recent Brash march on to the field of race relations – his ‘Hobson’s Pledge’ campaign launched in 2016 to the cheers of the usual assembly of suspects, notably from Invercargill, Nelson, Christchurch and Whangarei. Audrey Young [NZH Political Editor, 10 Oct 2016] commented,

“Just awful! It’s hard to see the new Brash vehicle getting the traction he got in 2004!”

While Hobson’s Pledge might yet be ‘dog-whistled’ back to life for a General Election, Audrey Young’s prediction has, thus far, turned out to be a significant under-statement.

But Why? What is it that has drawn so much of that ugly venom from our national interactions in that short twelve years since Orewa? After all, institutional racism and white supremacist sentiment has been endemic in our political system since the 1860s. It is longstanding. Why did the clumsy misuse of Hobson’s 1840 observation not cause yet another massive ventilation of cross-cultural bile?

Indeed, I invite you to consider, in contrast, the recent near-explosion of media coverage of Te Reo Māori and the journalistic discussion of Māori culture and heritage – to say nothing of race relations – that has surged in just the past 12 months! Where did that come from? What is changing? What is happening to us?

Well, I believe we can say, with an increasing confidence, that New Zealand has advanced over the past decade into a mode of much greater mutual acceptance in respect of race relations and, indeed, in our willingness to celebrate the bi-cultural dimension of our shared heritage. Our society has managed successfully to digest the re-assertion of Māori cultural singularity and to value the way in which it brings vibrancy to our national identity and enhances it with colour and distinctiveness.

As our own Ngāi Tahu scholar, Prof. Athol Anderson, has put it when referring to the award-winning publication, Tangata Whenua, “We are a nation that stands on two legs!”

But these observations offer, rather, more commentary than explanation as to cause. I think the change has come about more than anything else from the dissipation of fear – fear of Treaty settlements, fear of enhanced Māori self-confidence, fear of ‘the other’, the removal of anxiety from the lobby-induced fear of property loss and exclusion.

Compare the hype and the tension occasioned by the Ngāi Tahu and the Waikato-Tainui Treaty settlements with today’s process – there have been so many and with such apparent frequency that they now struggle to be mentioned in the national press. The public have, I believe, absorbed the truth that, despite all predictions, life as we know it has not been destroyed and there’s even a bit of upside!

That said, I am, of course, bound to agree with Gareth Morgan about the extraordinarily modest – miniscule even – scale of compensation in comparison to the value of the loss suffered. The capitalisation of the New Zealand enterprise was accomplished by the systematic de-capitalisation of Iwi Māori. In many instances the nascent New Zealand State behaved both fraudulently and in a deliberately corrupt manner. It is one of the gentle ironies of our shared history that it is the intrinsic intention of the Treaty itself which commends Māori to accept both the fact and the scale of settlements in the interests of our shared future.

I want, though, to note, with clear approval, the establishment by the previous Minister of Treaty Settlements, of a Post-Settlement Commitment Unit. One of the problems of the early settlements has been the rapid onset of ‘bureaucratic amnesia’ and a struggle to secure aspects of settlement implementation. On occasion that has been a consequence of State restructuring and on others a failure to ensure effective policy succession.

I believe that this phenomenon has been most plainly evidenced in the Fisheries policy area but it has also been a perennial problem for DoC which has devoted the last three decades to asserting what the Section 4 Treaty provision of the Conservation Act does not mean! It is to the great credit of the present government that it has incorporated that function into the new Crown Māori Relations portfolio – Te Arawhiti – under the responsibility of the Hon. Kelvin Davis and the new head of the Department of Justice.

The short point of that is, of course that there are many long term arrangements effected by Treaty settlements and the memory of the State remains subject to its triennial lobotomy. There must be some mechanism working to ensure that agreements are not forgotten but, instead, endure. The Crown’s effort in establishing, and now continuing, the Unit is more than commendable. It could well serve to allay the fears of those who are fearful of the trends within contemporary democracy and State institutions.

I do want to stress, though, that the need for a Treaty Settlement Commitments Unit is not necessarily a response to an inherent and racist malevolence within the bureaucracy of the Settler State. The ailments of the State are more to do with memory loss. The Unit, though, should prove a valuable precautionary tool but it can never, on its own be enough. The responsibility for durable settlements is not all on the Crown side.

Our Treaty-based culture requires a bi-cultural commitment. Māori – and today, I emphasise Ngāi Tahu – must not be passive recipients of benefit in our nation’s forward evolution. I say this because history is not a linear process. It is not inherently progressive. It can retreat just as much as it can be seen to advance. Gains can be lost if they are not claimed and reclaimed. The recovered status of the Treaty in our society and political culture could easily be reversed if Māori and Pākehā were to succumb to movements such as we see strewn about us by contemporary western populism.

Our gains must be protected and reinforced by use and attention. If they are not actively cared for and consequently fall into disuse and are forgotten – they will have become lost by neglect. The neglect I speak of is not just the neglect of the bureaucrat charged with meeting the State’s obligations. I speak of neglect by the beneficiary Iwi. If we Ngāi Tahu forget the eight-generation journey we commemorate today, then we betray the constancy and the dream of those generations. If we fail to perpetuate and constantly renew our faith in the Treaty and its principles, if we fail actively to protect and refine the continuing relevance of those principles then they will recede and they will wither with neglect.

The fact that we may see our customary rights as being self-evident does not automatically render them self-fulfilled. They must be constantly defined and re-defined, articulated and re-articulated – wrestled with to make them real and invested with life. You may take the view that this a somewhat over-blown way to refer to water and fish, to kelp and birds and eels. I make no apology for the emphasis, though. These are matters that go to the heart of Ngāi Tahu identity. They are central to any meaningful vision of what our inter-cultural relationships might in future comprise.

That discussion is currently far too contained within a Māori leadership elite (and certainly within a Ngāi Tahu leadership elite) and not sufficiently the subject of a comprehending awareness either on the marae or within the wider Māori community. It must be broadened and socialised beyond administrative and litigational struggle between our representatives and the Crown.

In contrast to other New Zealanders, and Iwi Māori, the Department of Conservation remains the biggest single presence of the State in Ngāi Tahu life.

Its political support lobbies are systemically hostile to our customary rights. Our own people on the ground have a sense of this territory but – as with the Constitution perhaps (?) – little understanding of the issues. Perhaps the greatest single gift that our leadership could offer our Ngāi Tahu people is an enhanced understanding of those rights and the nature of the effort required to regain and secure them.

There is one further major theme to which I should like to advert. It is the need for Māori (and, again, Ngāi Tahu in particular) to confront the emerging demographic reality of Aotearoa and strategically relocate their vision in that reality.

At the half-century (a mere 30 odd years away) there will be roughly twice as many New Zealanders as there are now. As I understand it, some 25% of them will not have been born here (which, I understand, is roughly the current figure). Pākehā will still predominate but will be disproportionately old and a Māori and Pasifika conglomeration will together form the third largest component with an Asian conglomeration being second. The Māori and Pasifika grouping will remain, as now, overwhelmingly young.

What will be the status and standing of the Treaty and Treaty principles in that context? What will be the standing of those questions which the Treaty Settlement Commitments Unit might be dealing with? What will be the political climatology of a society in which an ageing superanuitant Pākehā population is living on the taxes generated overwhelmingly by a younger non-white population?

What does the population distribution of that future look like – absent any national population policy and a less than half-hearted approach to regional development? Where does it leave Te Waipounamu, indeed the whole nation south of Lake Taupō?

The great lump of population north of Taupō already consumes more than it produces. The GNP, on which we all ultimately depend, is disproportionately generated from increasingly depleted regions. Scottish referendums and American Rust Belt revolts begin to look less mysterious and distant.

In this emergent scenario which our political culture seems incapable of addressing (at least openly), the Treaty values which have been nursed through past generations and restored to a sentient life in our own generation are going to have to be re-articulated and re-thought. re-debated and re-imagined.

Māori and (again, Ngāi Tahu!) cannot abandon that discussion to the lawmakers, the administrators and the officials. It is a conversation which reaches out beyond academics writing footnoted letters to one another in refereed journals.

As a tribal nation we must take a leading part in that emergent national conversation. It is our great challenge as we today commemorate the remarkable event arising from the elevated decency of Normanby’s instructions to Hobson, to commit ourselves to that forward conversation.

That dream of what Aotearoa NZ might yet become must reflect our own dream of what we want our culture and its identity to be and to comprise as one of its core components. We cannot, today, predict the shape and form of our future. We can, though, be confident only that it will be very different, as different as is our world from that of our parents – let alone that of our grandparents.

Even if the rest of New Zealand can’t be bothered about it – let us resolve to grow our dream, to focus on that dream and determine that we , at least, will focus on the great challenge of giving substance to a refreshed articulation of intelligent democracy in which intercultural decency and a more culturally accommodating rule of law can stand out against the Barbarians at our Gate.

Whilst I have only ever held the mandate of Ngāi Tahu, I address this call beyond Ngāi Tahu to our fellow New Zealanders Kā Iwi Manawhenua me Kā Tākata Tiriti, the people of the Treaty. We Ngāi Tahu stand in our place, Te Waipounamu, as Tākata whenua , others stand here as Tākata Tiriti. The principles of the Treaty of Waitangi are as central to their future as they are to ours. Our Treaty rights are the twins of their rights!

As we stand witness to western democracy cannibalising itself at the hands of its own, home-grown mob, chanting its own alternative facts and post-truth realities as it goes, know that we do not have to follow. Our geographical loneliness gifts us the possibility of shaping our world around our own central values but those values – like the rights of which I spoke earlier – must be claimed and reclaimed and not permitted to wither through neglect.

Whilst our history as a Ngāi Tahu people over those eight generations has been a history of reacting to and coping with the growth and operation of a colonial settler State we have now reached a point where we must see ourselves no longer as the damaged and dispossessed victims of the New Zealand Project but as part of, and contributors to, the development of what this nation might yet become.

We can now afford to dream and we have the resource and the human capacity to grow our dream. What we cannot afford to do is fail to dream.

At the heart of that dream must lie the constant process of continual reclamation of the remarkable compact we commemorate today. Whatever the actual intent and mutual understandings of the parties to the Treaty of 1840 – or, indeed, the misunderstandings – it has provided us with both an historical foundation and a heritage on which we can stand our future.

The challenge for Māori, for Pākehā and all the Tāngata Tiriti, who have come to comprise Aotearoa, is to build on that shared accommodation of each others’ culture, to relish and value our diversity. We must grow our dream! The feathered kākahu of the Treaty must adorn us and warm us all!

Mā te huru kākahu o Te Tiriti whakamahana ki a tātou!

Aoraki Matatū!