Waitangi Day Address by Dr Michael J. Stevens, Awarua 2021

Dr Michael J. Stevens (Kāti Rakiāmoa me Kāi Te Ruahikihiki; nō te whānau Metzger ki Awarua)
Waitangi Day Address – Ngāi Tahu Treaty Commemorations
Te Rau Aroha Marae
6 February 2021

A few weeks ago Tā Tipene asked me if I would like to compose and deliver a Waitangi Day Address – and by asked, I mean, he told me I would be. Which is to say, of course, that Lady Sandra had told Tipene, that he wouldn’t be delivering a Waitangi Day Address! In that sense, I offer my thanks to you, Sandra, for this wonderful opportunity. I further thank Te Rūnaka o Awarua for acquiescing to her proposal!

Before I begin though, I would first like to acknowledge you, Tipene, for the nearly 30 occasions on which you have stood before us to share your knowledge and views of the Treaty of Waitangi on this commemorative day. Looking back through those carefully crafted kōrero, one sees that, on every occasion, you taught us something about our past, but in a way that helped us to better understand our present, before pushing us, often forcefully so, to think about our future and what might be. E Tā, without pre-emptively composing your obituary – because you’re still very much with us, and still very much with “it” – I want to suggest a parallel between you and Tāwhiao.

Like him, you provided your people with strong leadership during a tumultuous period in New Zealand’s history, but in so doing, you reflected on the nature of leadership, of strategy, of aspiration, and gifted us visionary words, passages, sayings and ideas, which will continue to warm our bones, long after yours have gone cold. And nowhere are these great gifts more apparent than your Waitangi Day Addresses. In concluding this brief mihi to you, Tipene, I offer a quote from the Roman statesman, philosopher and orator Cicero: What nobler employment, or more valuable to the state, than that of the man who instructs the rising generation?”

I now begin my address proper, and do so, again, by reaching for Cicero: “To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child” Political discourse in New Zealand, particularly in the area of Māori and Pākehā relations, the nature, extent, and legacy of colonial-era wrongs can, à la Cicero, all too-often be described as childish. That is to say, many of our politicians and political commentators – perhaps most of them – and I include a number of Māori in this assessment – are profoundly ignorant of the history of this archipelago. I single out the Hon. Megan Woods as an exception to this rule. Armed with a PhD in History, she is consequently one of our least childish politicians, which is one reason why we are so thrilled to have her here with us today.

But my general point holds: few New Zealanders know much about New Zealand. Were that not so, the racialised Christchurch terror attacks, and the existential threats posed by Covid-19 and climate change, would not, as they so often are, be described as “unprecedented.” What then, does this have to do with Te Tiriti o Waitangi? Well, I am suggesting that while we can, at this point in time, trust the state to care for the Treaty as an object – as illustrated by the nine documents’ current, purpose-built home in the National Library – we need to take personal responsibility for the Treaty as a subject. Put differently, while we should applaud the government for introducing New Zealand history into the school curriculum, we should not allow it to have a monopoly over the creation and dissemination of that history. I say that mindful of what Tipene refers to as the New Zealand State’s “triennial lobotomy”.

Let us also remember that, in 1908, when the state effectively had such a monopoly, the Treaty documents were discovered to have been carelessly stored under the Government Buildings, where they damaged by water, and chewed on by rats – after having been pissed on by the judiciary. It was careful historical scholarship, determined historical advocacy, and historically-informed politics – by Māori and Pākehā figures – which helped recover the Treaty’s status and transform it from a “rat-nibbled nullity”, to quote Tipene, to the nation’s proverbial founding document. This brings me to my next observation and attendant recommendation.

As an increasing number of New Zealanders seek to understand the history of these islands – and I applaud Stuff and other parts of our media for recent advances in that regard – it seems to me that they use the Treaty as a way in to our history. Now, that is no Bad Thing. But I think it would be much better – it would be a Good Thing – if people flipped that around and instead used our history as a way in to understanding the Treaty. Simply put, this is a text best read in context. That is as true of events in the 1840s as those in the 1940s and indeed those in 1990s. It is by such means, I think, that we can better comprehend, and potentially enhance, the Treaty’s role in New Zealand society beyond imprecise symbolism.

Understanding our history and the Treaty in this way requires us to do two things: to look up and out to the wider world, as well as deeper down into the particular regions and subnational entities that cumulatively constitute “New Zealand.” Let me put it this way, imagine the Treaty of Waitangi is a house in which we all live. That’s surely not an original metaphor. But I want to extend it to assert that we spend quite a bit of time arguing over the wallpaper, curtains and carpet, who gets what bedroom, and whose turn it is to do the dishes. All the while, barely anyone looks down to check the piles let alone geotechnical conditions, or looks up to check the roof – let alone the weather forecast.

Put differently, most of what passes as “Treaty discourse” is conceived of at the national level. This is, I suggest, a natural consequence of the orthodox view that the Treaty is only a source of law to the extent that it is incorporated into New Zealand’s domestic legal system – that is to say, woven into statutes by Parliament – which is of course how the notion of the “principles of the Treaty” emerged in the mid-1970s and developed through the 1980s. However, the elements by which the Treaty was born – then neglected – and in turn revived, are, for the most part, local and transnational rather than national.

Our collective ignorance of that dynamic is perhaps both cause and effect of the way in which reappraisals of New Zealand’s colonial history over the last 40 or so years have taken place surprisingly independent of the British imperial history of which it was a part. I suspect this is a consequence of New Zealand’s settler colonial elite domesticating the Treaty in the 1870s so as to kill it, which was perfectly observable in 1903’s Protest of the Bench and Bar. While that case alone, I think, is one of the most interesting parts of our legal history, in the interests of time, and the fact that the real expert on this history, Emeritus Professor David Williams, is in the audience, I am going to move on.

I turn instead to offer a key example of some of the transnational forces to which I have just referred. In several of his Waitangi Day Addresses, Tā Tipene has noted what he calls “the elevated decency of Normanby’s instructions to Hobson.” Tipene is referring to Marquess Normanby, who was briefly the Secretary of State for the Colonies in 1839, and the detailed instructions he gave to William Hobson who was tasked with formally incorporating New Zealand in the British Empire.

These instructions specified the need for a treaty of cession with Māori, which was to obtained through Māori consent rather than British force. Moreover, Hobson was to recognise and protect Māori land and property. As part of that, the Crown was only able to purchase land from Māori that it could “obtain by fair and equal contracts”, and these would be overseen by Pākehā “protectors” whose job it was to safeguard Māori interests – as occurred at Ōtākou, for instance, in 1844. One of these so-called protectors of Aborigines, of course, was Edward Shortland, who travelled through Te Waipounamu in 1843-44 and met with several of our tīpuna, including here at Awarua and across at Ruapuke Island. Shortland quickly grappled with Ngāi Tahu whakapapa and land tenure and devised fairly enlightened frameworks for the potential sale of Māori land.

Unfortunately though, George Grey disbanded the Protectorate Office in 1846, which helps explain why we were treated so poorly two years later with Kemp’s Purchase. Significantly, Shortland consistently rejected the idea of Māori depopulation, which was popularly asserted by Pākehā to justify the appropriation of Māori land and the irrelevance of the Treaty – in a sort of rebus sic stantibus. Shortland, in contrast, argued that the so-called Dying Māori thesis was “a fallacy likely to mislead the intending colonist” who could not use it to justify acting “disadvantageously on the native race” who were “highly intellectual human beings, who will eventually take their place side by side with the white man, as equals”. Thus, if not duty, then long-term self-interest should inspire Pākehā to do right by Māori. A similar logic probably sits behind the modern Treaty settlement process – while the delay in accepting that truth most definitely sits behind our unconscionable Māori incarceration rates.

Anyway, my bigger point here, which is what Tipene was getting at, is that Normanby’s Instructions were essentially the basis for Te Tiriti. The next important point is this: Normanby’s contribution to the so-called Normanby Instructions was limited to his signature! They had been effectively approved by his predecessor, Lord Glenelg, who had been Secretary of State for the Colonies between 1835 and early 1839. More to the point, the Instructions had been drafted by Sir James Stephen who worked in the Colonial Office for over three decades and was the Undersecretary of State for the Colonies between 1836 and 1847. Now, both Glenelg and Stephen were key members in the Humanitarian movement, which was a trans-imperial network of mainly Evangelical Anglicans, but also Quakers, who successfully abolished the slave trade within the British Empire in 1807, and then slavery itself in 1834.

The legislation for the latter was actually drafted by James Stephen who worked very closely with Thomas Fowell Buxton, who succeeded William Wilberforce in the House of Commons as the leader of the abolitionist movement. Buxton, who was the founding chair of the RSPCA, and other leading humanitarians then extended their focus to the treatment and status of indigenous people on the formal and informal frontiers of the British Empire. Reflecting on his life’s work in this regard, Stephen, in a letter to Buxton, wrote that I am “thankful for the innumerable opportunities which have been afforded me of contributing to the mitigation, if not the prevention, of the cruel wrongs which our country has inflicted on so large a portion of the human race”.

In 1835, by which time New Zealand and Māori were deeply entangled in the British World, Buxton established a Parliamentary Select Committee on Aborigines in the House of Commons. This was sparked by frontier violence between British farmer-settlers and Xhosa [hO-sA] in the Cape Colony [i.e. South Africa] between 1835 and 1837 but became a general enquiry into the activities of British settlers and traders there as well as in New South Wales, Tasmania, New Zealand, various other Pacific Islands, and what we now call Canada. As one historian notes, the resultant report “applied to British settlers and traders the same language that had so recently been brought to bear against slave owners. The report castigated settlers and traders for their immoral treatment of indigenous peoples and argued that such treatment contributed to the physical destruction and moral degradation of the ‘Native Inhabitants of the Countries where British Settlements are made’”.

Amongst other things, the report proposed the metropolitan oversight of settler relationships with indigenous peoples, and, interestingly, argued against the use of treaties on the basis that they would be used against the indigenous contracting party. However, Humanitarians, including Stephen, later changed their mind on these point, in part because of events that took place within New Zealand, specifically Ngāi Tahu, which I will touch on shortly.

In any event, Buxton and Stephen – and I would add Edward Shortland and even Rev. Octavius Hadfield – believed in the possibility and desirability of British expansion motivated by duty rather than just self-interest – of benevolent colonisation – even if that sounds like an oxymoron to our ears. Another consequence of the Buxton Report was the establishment of the Aborigines Protection Society, which worked to achieve the report’s aims – and whose membership included Frederick Tuckett, he of the Ōtākou Purchase, who returned to Britain, became a vocal critic of the New Zealand Company, and provided material support to Rev Wohlers and the Ruapuke Mission.

Where am I going with this? Well, from a Māori vantage, the timing of all this activity is clearly crucial – Sir James Stephen had the strongest influence on the Colonial Office during Lord Glenelg’s administration – i.e. 1835-39 – precisely when Britain was deciding what to do with and in New Zealand. The point being, had that occurred earlier in time, or later in time, a very different-looking treaty could have been offered up to Māori, or, indeed, no treaty whatsoever. What unfolded after 1840 was not good, but I am convinced it could have easily been much worse. And we can give thanks that it wasn’t worse, by increasing our understanding of those historical factors.

You will not be surprised to learn that the New Zealand Company and Edward Gibbon Wakefield were deeply opposed to Humanitarianism, to the Humanitarian-inflect Colonial Office, and Sir James Stephen. You will not be surprised to learn that Stephen was similarly scornful of Wakefield’s plan for so-called systematic colonisation. I will not go into the detail of that except to note three things: first, Stephen and Wakefield both sought to reform the British Empire – but one did so from the point of view of what was best for Britain, while the other did so in terms of what was best, or at least, least bad, for indigenous people ensnared within that empire. In other words, Wakefield and Stephen had competing visions of empire, and that tension is clearly visible by the time we get to 1840 at the Treaty of Waitangi. As Claudia Orange observes, initial plans of a Māori New Zealand that somehow accommodated European settlers was replaced with a settler New Zealand that would somehow retain a place for Māori.

Secondly, despite the deep antagonism that existed between Wakefield and his supporters, and Buxton and his supporters, the fact is that Wakefield’s grandmother, Priscilla Bell – the noted educationist, feminist and writer – who was a granddaughter of the Quaker banker David Barclay – had a sister, Catherine, who married another Quaker banker, John Gurney, whose children included the prison and slavery-reformers, Joseph Gurney, Elizabeth Fry, and Hannah Gurney. Hannah Gurney was married to none other than…Thomas Fowell Buxton! Basically, this was just a big family scrap! Cousin fighting cousin over the question of territorial expansion?! This is all eerily reminiscent of the Ngāi Tahu migration narrative! So, not only do we not need to seriously rework British history into a Māori intellectual framework to make it intelligible – a la 1966’s Shakespeare in the Bush – I think that take on Wakefield et al illustrates the extreme utility of whakapapa in crafting Pākehā history as well as Māori history.

My final point on the Wakefield versus Buxton visions of empire is that they were able to hold these views – that is, debate how best to rule land in far flung parts of the world, precisely because Britain ruled the world’s seas. That was the true source of Pax Britannica. To quote New Zealand’s 10th Governor, the military engineer Sir William Jervois, from an 1884 lecture: “Naval squadrons are maintained…in the British Channel, in the Mediterranean, in the North American and West Indian Command, in the Pacific, in China, on the East Indian Station, at the Cape of Good Hope, and last, not least, Australasia. These are charged with the defence of British interests and of the lines of British commerce throughout the world…” Simply put, Britain had the thing that the United States of America now has, and which the People’s Republic of China is working hard to acquire. One of the naval bases that made Britain’s global military network function was Singapore, whose fall in 1942, I argue, for reasons as much personal as professional, marked the end of the British Empire.

In any event, it is no coincidence that Hobson came from the Royal Navy, likewise his immediate successor, New Zealand’s second governor, Robert FitzRoy. It is no coincidence that the Governor General’s message was delivered to us today by Commodore Melissa Ross of the Royal New Zealand Navy. Commodore, you represent an interesting heritage; and you operate in interesting times. As I turn to conclude this address, let me pre-emptively rebut the accusation that much of the foregoing is a long way from Ruapuke, from Ōtākou, and from Ōnuku: the three sites where Ngāi Tahu rangatira signed the Treaty in mid-1840. I mentioned earlier that Buxton and Stephen – and the British Government more generally – felt increasingly impelled to intervene in New Zealand as the 1830s unfolded. A key reason for this, which resulted in the appointment of James Busby as British Resident in 1833, and, eventually, Te Tiriti, were the atrocities committed at Takapūneke in November 1830 by Ngāti Toa and the British captain and crew of the Elizabeth.

As we Ngāi Tahu know too well, this resulted in the capture, torture and deaths of Te Maiharanui, his wife Te Whe, and their daughter Ngā Roimata. Please remember that Kāti Rakiāmoa lines reach down to here in Murihiku – through two sisters of Te Maiharanui: Wairua and Piki – who each have descendants here today. A descendant of Wairua is Ricky Topi who caught and cooked the pāua you have just eaten for lunch. A descendant of Piki is my Pōua who wishes his grandson would stop talking! Before I do, let me also point out that the oyster boat owned and operated by Te Rūnaka o Awarua is named Ngā Roimata. As William Faulkner wrote – “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Let me also thank the Christchurch City Council and our whanaunga at Ōnuku Rūnanga, who secured ownership over the so-called Red House adjacent to the Takapūneke Reserve in December last year thereby enabling us to enhance this enormously significant historical site. It is that sort of material investment in our collective past, and therefore collective future, that fills me with all sorts of optimism. I suspect it was a similar optimism our tīpuna felt in the 1920s when Sir William Alexander Sim carefully and sympathetically assessed Kemp’s Purchase and arguably helped lay the iwi-corporate foundations of present-day Ngāi Tahu. On that note, I would like to point out that Sir William’s mokopuna kindly sits amongst us here today.

Three years ago, Tā Tipene stood before you here and asked if there is any place for the Treaty in the dramatically changed world that is upon us, or was it simply an historic artefact and past its use-by date? I will not summarise his answer, but instead offer my own. I quite agree with Thomas Jefferson’s 1789 comment to James Maddison that “no society can make a perpetual constitution or even a perpetual law. The earth belongs always to the living generation”. I also note though, that the New Zealand state has been at its worst when disregarding the Treaty of Waitangi, and at its best when seeking to give effect to it. I say that with local government and the Department of Conservation firmly in mind, on both counts. So, riffing off Jefferson, I think that in New Zealand, it is not just the earth – but also the Treaty – that belongs to living generations. And to fully appreciate and better manage both of those things – which is pivotal to the durability of treaty settlements – we need to grow our understanding of history – of what came before us. We all need to be less ignorant; less childish. To do otherwise brings to mind Heraclitus: “dogs bark at what they cannot understand.” Near the beginning of this talk – by now, no doubt a distant memory! – I argued that the Treaty is a house. With that in mind, and standing at the bully pulpit of this house, which is a testament to mutually-beneficial Māori and Pākehā interaction, let me close by quoting Churchill: “we shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.”

Select bibliography/further reading

Ballantyne, Tony. “The Theory and Practice of Empire-Building: Edward Gibbon Wakefield and ‘systematic colonisation’” in The Routledge History of Western Empires, eds Robert Aldrich and Kirsten McKenzie (London: Routledge, 2014), 89-101.

Bohannan, Laura. “Shakespeare in the Bush.” Language: Readings in language and culture (1966): 27-36.

Elbourne, Elizabeth. “The sin of the settler: the 1835-36 Select Committee on Aborigines and debates over virtue and conquest in the early nineteenth-century British white settler empire.” Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History 4, no. 3 (2003).

Heartfield, James, The Aborigines’ Protection Society: Humanitarian Imperialism in Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Canada, South Africa, and the Congo, 1836-1909. Columbia University Press, 2011.

Lester, Alan, and Fae Dussart. Colonization and the origins of humanitarian governance: protecting Aborigines across the nineteenth-century British Empire. Cambridge University Press, 2014.

Shortland, Edward. The southern districts of New Zealand: a journal, with passing notices of the customs of the aborigines. London: Longman, Brown, Green, & Longmans, 1851.

Standfield, Rachel. Race and Identity in the Tasman World, 1769–1840. Routledge, 2015 (esp. chapters 7 & 8).

Tate, John William. “The Privy Council and Native Title: A Requiem for Wi Parata.” [2004] WkoLawRw 6; 12 Waikato Law Review (2004).

Williams, Trevor. “James Stephen and British Intervention in New Zealand, 1838-40.” The Journal of Modern History 13, no. 1 (1941): 19-35.