Monday, February 06, 2006

Waitangi Day

National Radio advertised their Waitangi Day programme with: "How did a document signed in good faith by both parties, become some controversial." Well we could start with the fact that the side with the power wasn't that into following it (even if we agree that it was signed in good faith, which is doubtful, and ignore the fact there was more than one document signed by the parties). I thought I wouldn't just shout at the radio, but try and articulate my views of the Treaty of Waitangi.

I know this'll make limited sense to non New Zealanders (all 30 of you). I'd like to recommend some really good links, but I don't have any, but this or this might give you some background.

My starting point in examining the treaty of Waitangi is as a historian. I believe that before we can talk about the role, or importance, of the treaty today we have to examine the particular historical circumstances under which it was signed (and then broken). To state something slightly obvious, the aim of the crown was to colonise New Zealand, therefore the purpose of the Treaty of Waitangi from the Crown's point of view, was to help colonise New Zealand (yes I know there's some serious simplifying going on there - feel free to complicate things up in the comments). The Treaty was initiated and written by the Crown, and so its purpose, from the beginning, was to facilitate the aims of the Crown, including colonisation.

But I wouldn't be a left-wing historian if I didn't start getting concerned about agency at this point. Because Maori did not just sit around waiting to be colonised; we cannot analyse the Treaty at the actions of the Crown. Particularly as the Maori version of the Treaty is somewhat different from the English version. Maori did sign the Treaty, and it promised, among other things, Tino Rangatiratanga.

Well we all know what happened next, lots of ignoring, lots of breaking, lots of land stealing. Because the Treaty didn't do quite as good a job of colonisation as guns could.

To me, there are two important points to my analysis of the Treaty:

1. That it has been broken on a regular basis for the last 166 years.
2. That it was part of a plan to colonise New Zealand.

I think that anti-colonial analysis of the treaty tends to focus on the 1st and ignore the second. The historical (and not so historical) breaches of the Treaty by the Crown, must be addressed (and all the new ones fought tooth and nail), but that doesn't mean if the Treaty had been followed for the last 150 years, everything would have been OK.

The Treaty should be the minimum Pakeha demand from the crown, not the ultimate goal for our society. I don't think we should accept a document written 166 years ago to help colonise New Zealand as a blue print of how to organise our society. Just the fact that various governments have been prepared to refer to 'the principles of the Treaty' is a sign that those principles aren't good enough.


  1. Interesting analysis - if the treaty was the minimum requirement for Pakeha to follow, then what else were they supposed to do?

    I also don't think we can make judgement calls on whether the treaty was signed in 'good faith,' wouldn't it have been translated properly if it was?

  2. I see the treaty as the minimum for the crown/state. And part of the role of Pakeha anti-colonial activism should be to demand that minimum.

    But when we go beyond the work of the state, then I think we should remember what the treaty way.

    So, for example, there are a lot of vaguely progressive organisations (such as student organisations) which call themselves Treaty based organisations, and use that as a model. I'm not convinced that the Treaty is the best starting point in this example.

    I agree with the translation point. But more importantly it doesn't matter whether the indivduals who signed it did so in good faith, the crown had started breaking it within a few years.

  3. Britain's self-interest in the Treaty was primarily geo-political. It wanted to ensure that no hostile power (e.g France) was able to colonise Aotearoa* and to prevent non-governmental freebooters (including fugitives from the Australian penal colonies) establishing an uncontrolled settlement.

    Britain did not really want to extensively settle NZ, and consequently might have done more to keep to the Treaty.

    In the wake of the treaty settlers arrived, and it was they who wished to appropriate Maori land by theft, fraud or raupatu. It was those settlers who pressurised the imperium to supply troops, and it was a settler judge (Chief Justice James Prendergast) who ruled the Treaty a "simple nullity" in the Wi Parata case.

    So I think you oversimplify in suggesting that the Treaty was part of a plot by "the crown" to subjugate Maori.

    * Spot the deliberate anachronism

  4. I said that I was over-simplifying things, and there were complicated issues going on.

    I didn't mean to imply that the treaty was part of a plot by the crown to subjugate Maori.

    I said that the Crown's aim was colonisation, and therefore, at least part of the purpose of the treaty was to further that aim.

  5. I'd agree with you on that point - I think one of the issues is that "colonisation" can mean many things - farm colony, exploitation colony, military outpost. I think the Treaty provided for the latter, and NZ wound up with the first two.

    Also "Crown" is a bit of an imprecise term - it can mean:
    - the monarch in person
    - the imperial government
    - the New Zealand government

  6. Anonymous10:30 pm

    I called it "National Long Supply Line Day".

    When the Brits were militarily weak they made treaties.

    When they were strong they broke them so comprehensively that they are no longer remembered.

    Waitangi exists today purely due the fact that the Brits in NZ had the longest supply line on the planet.

    As they say, the reason why the Birtish Empire was the Empire on which the sun never set, was 'cause no one would ever trust a Brit in the dark. :-))

    That said, just because our ancestors were assholes, doesn't mean that we have to continue the tradition. Perhaps it's time come up with a new treaty, unambiguous that fairly fulfills the spirit of the original yet provides a sane basis for a modern cooperative government.