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Dr Muriel Newman

The Next Item on the Maori Agenda

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Five years ago, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous People, Rodolfo Stavenhagen, visited New Zealand to consult with Maori. In the report he subsequently produced, he urged the then Labour Government to recognise Maori rights to self determination. In particular, he recommended that the government support the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, that they repeal Crown ownership of the foreshore and seabed, and that they undertake a constitutional review in order to entrench the Treaty of Waitangi.[1]

As could be expected, the report was enthusiastically embraced by the Maori Party. It was dismissed by the Labour Government and the National Party stated that it “should be thrown in a rubbish bin”.

In an apparent complete turn-around, the National Party has now invited the UN’s special rapporteur to come back to New Zealand in July. This is no doubt part of a public conditioning exercise designed to convince New Zealanders that repealing Crown ownership of the foreshore and seabed in favour of Maori ownership is a good move.

NZCPR columnist Mike Butler picks up on this theme in his insightful blog “Framing the race debate” on Breaking Views: “With the Maori Party in government, the scene has been set and the actors are in place to cement a radical racial shift, or so the radicals believe, so that a separate Ngapuhi state, a Tuhoe nation, and tribal ownership of the foreshore and seabed, and the subsequent flow of oil, gas, and mineral royalties, would simply be the next step.”

National will also, no doubt, use the special rapporteur to set the scene for the Maori Party’s promised constitutional review, which was part of their confidence and supply agreement. The Maori Party will be hoping that this review will result in the adoption of a new New Zealand constitution and the entrenchment of the Treaty of Waitangi – and the Maori seats!

The constitutional review will no doubt be launched at the same time as the Government’s bill to repeal Crown ownership of the foreshore and seabed comes into Parliament. This would create a high profile diversion. It was the tactic National used with the foreshore and seabed review, which was timed to coincide with the highly controversial mining review. As was to be expected, the mining review totally swamped media commentary, even though the mining proposal was targeting 7,000 hectares, while the government’s plans for the jewel in New Zealand’s crown – the foreshore and seabed – covers 10 million hectares and includes resources worth tens of billions of dollars.

No doubt while in New Zealand, the special rapporteur will also engage in some hearty public back-slapping over National’s adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People – a move that the previous Labour Government refused on the basis that it could have disastrous ramifications for domestic policy. It was also a decision for which the National Party had no mandate. The majority of New Zealanders would have opposed the signing of this declaration – if they had been asked – as most people still hold the view that New Zealand is a country where everyone is equal. Any move by government to give one group of people special privileges based on race is, quite rightly, seen as racist and divisive.

Interestingly, political commentator Chris Trotter, in an open letter to National Party members published in the Dominion Post last month, picked up on this theme, warning that moves to embrace Maori extremism that were afoot deep within the party organisation, could prove disastrous for National. He explained how in the 1980s radical Maori nationalists – led by the Harawira family – took over New Zealand’s most popular overseas aid charity, Corso, leading to its eventual demise. He went on to say, “If you, the members of the National Party, do not rouse yourselves, then your own, once- proud, political brand will suffer the same fate as Corso’s. Already, ideological extremism has driven thousands of your members out of the party. And now those same extremists, working hand-in-glove with radical Maori nationalists, are getting ready to tip both your government and your dramatically restructured party organisation into the same death spiral that destroyed Corso.”[2]

There is no doubt that John Key and the National Party appear intent on taking the country down a dangerous path towards a race-based future that even Helen Clark refused to traverse. In spite of heavy pressure by Maori interests, Helen Clark would not sign the declaration on the rights of indigenous people, claiming that the discriminatory provisions were “fundamentally incompatible with our democratic processes, our legislation and our constitutional arrangements.” Even a cursory examination of the Declaration will convince readers of the wisdom of that decision.[3]

However, there is another underlying reason why New Zealand should not have signed the declaration, as this week’s NZCPR Guest Commentator, law lecturer and Treaty expert David Round explains:

“There is, in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, one very surprising omission. Nowhere is there any definition of who or what exactly an indigenous person is. The Oxford English Dictionary tells us that someone or something indigenous is ’born or produced naturally in a land or region; native to that soil, region’. In that sense, all native-born New Zealanders are indigenous. We may speak a language and have a culture that developed elsewhere; but so did the first Maori when they arrived from the Hawaiki they still remember. On the other hand, if ‘indigenous’ is used to refer to a people whose ancestors have lived in a place from time immemorial, then New Zealand has no indigenous inhabitants.”

Archaeologists agree that humans first settled in New Zealand well over 1,000 years before the main Maori migration, which is estimated to have arrived around 1200 AD.[4] Their evidence is based on the exhaustive forensic examination of historic plant and animal remains. They believe that the settlement of New Zealand was most likely a continuous process, a view that is certainly consistent with early settler journal accounts (from the proceedings of the Royal Society of New Zealand) which indicate that not only did Moriori precede Maori, but that when they arrived in the Chatham Islands, “they found the country in the possession of aboriginal natives called Hiti”- inhabitants of the “Flint age”, who used not stone, but “chips of obsidian as cutting implements”.[5] There is also strong evidence of an early presence of people of Celtic and Chinese ancestry as well as Greek, French, Portuguese, Spanish and others – in addition to settlers of Polynesian descent.

In other words, according to archaeological records, New Zealand’s history is one of continual settlement. In the early days these settlers arrived by sea. Now they come by air. New Zealand has no bona fide indigenous peoples.

In his article Who is Indigenous?, David Round then goes on to ask who is ‘Maori’? He explains that “Virtually all Maoris are of course of mixed Maori and European descent. We hear of the alleged ‘browning’ of New Zealand; it would be just as accurate to speak of its whitening, as the races continue to intermarry and become one people. People who are even only one eighth or one sixteenth Maori cannot in any meaningful sense be described as Maori. Genetically they are not, and it is highly unlikely that they will ever have experienced any racial prejudice. Their cultural milieu is unlikely to be Maori. If such people make claims to the Waitangi Tribunal, they are in fact claiming for a wrong done to one or two of their ancestors (Maori) by many other of their ancestors (European). Any injustice suffered by their Maori ancestors may very well be balanced by the benefit accruing to their European ancestors. In any reasonable system for righting wrongs it should be a question of fact in each case whether a Waitangi Tribunal claimant has actually suffered injustice. The mere fact that one of a claimant’s great-great-ancestors suffered a wrong is no proof at all that this claimant has ever suffered in his or her own life. It is actually an injustice to the rest of the community to give special benefits to those who have not suffered injustices.”

Again to their credit, Helen Clark’s Government established an end-date of 1 September 2008 for the lodging of historic Treaty claims to the Waitangi Tribunal, finally putting a stop to what has become an extraordinarily lucrative gravy train. As a result of these Treaty settlements, the combined wealth of Maori corporations has now grown to an estimated $25 billion. That is almost 15 percent of the economy. With people who call themselves Maori making up some 15 percent of the population, the days of claimed economic disadvantage – which has always been the excuse for more and more taxpayer’s money needing to be poured into Maori programmes – are surely numbered.[6]

The reality is that governments need no longer treat Maori as if they are oppressed. They should hold no different status from that of every other New Zealander. Anyone who is disadvantaged should receive help, but that help should certainly be based on need – not race.

Nor should Maori get away with trying to claim that the Treaty of Waitangi confers on them a special ‘partnership’ status – it does no such thing. The notion of a partnership is a political construct based on greed, opportunism and illusions

of power. But while putting and end to such state sponsored racism might make sense to taxpayers, it is clear from the agenda laid out by the National and Maori parties that they intend to take no notice. In other words, unless they are reigned in, new ways of fleecing taxpayers will be concocted by radical Maori in cahoots with a National Party that appears prepared to sacrifice all of its principles to stay in power, if not via the Waitangi Tribunal, then (thanks to National) through the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, or directly through legislation.

Ensuring the public is better informed – especially regarding the proposed sell-out to Maori of the foreshore and seabed (see www.CoastalCoalition.co.nz for details) which is the next major battleground – is crucial, because these people will not stop now that National is in the driving seat unless the public force them to do so.

1. UN Report of Special Rapporteur, Mission to New Zealand 
2. Chris Trotter, National at risk of being tipped into death spiral 
3.Un Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
4.John Flenley et al, The timing of the human discovery and colonization of New Zealand
5.Edward Tregear, The Moriori