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David Rankin

Waitangi Tribunal Doing More Harm Than Good

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There is an old Chinese proverb:  “When is the best time to plant a tree?  Twenty years ago.  When is the second best time to plant a tree?  Now.”  It’s the same with the Waitangi Tribunal.  The best time to have shut it down was in the in 1985, before historical claims were allowed to be considered.  By 1985, the Tribunal had been in operation for ten years and had almost run out of claims.  Then the Lange government changed the rules, allowing the Tribunal to consider claims going back to 1840, and the rest is history…literally.

I gave evidence at a Waitangi Tribunal hearing into the sovereignty claim which has just been reported on. My testimony included details of the oral history of the treaty signing and how the rangatira [chiefs] at the time regarded political developments that were occurring.

When my tupuna (ancestor) Hone Heke, signed the Treaty of Waitangi, he did so because he knew it was the only option in terms of having a relationship with the British Crown.  But the tribunal is now telling us that all those chiefs saw the Declaration of Independence, which a few had signed in 1835, is the basis of their relationship with the British.  That is a lie and that is not what the tribunal was told by me. In my view, the Tribunal report defamed the memory of Hone Heke, and of my whanau’s oral histories.

It may surprise many New Zealanders, but a growing number of Maori are fed up with the Waitangi Tribunal, and the entire Treaty gravy train.  There is a stereotype of Maori collecting millions of dollars in settlement money and living the easy life.  The reality is very different.  Here are a few facts:

1.     The Tribunal makes up history as it goes along.  A growing number of New Zealand historians are pointing this out, although most of them are labelled as racist for doing so.  Facts are omitted in Tribunal reports, and evidence is shaped in some cases to fit predetermined outcomes.   The bias is so obvious, but most historians are too scared for their careers to question the tribunal’s findings.

2.     In the 1970s, many of us hoped that the Tribunal would be an organisation that would achieve reconciliation.  It has turned out to be a body that is bringing in apartheid to New Zealand.  This sounds dramatic, until you see how it advocates for race-based access to certain areas, and race-based management policies for Crown land, and now, twin sovereignty, which constitutionally is worse than anything that happened in South Africa during the apartheid era.

3.     Treaty settlements make tribal corporations rich, along with the help of favourable tax status and often little or no rates to pay.  So with these advantages, it’s pretty easy to become super profitable.  But do you think the average Maori sees any benefit from this?  None at all.  I have been asked several times to be on trust boards and have been offered large sums of money to do so.  I refuse.  History will judge the kupapa (traitors) who have abandoned our people for money.

4.     The tribunal is a bully.  Go against it, and you will be labelled a racist or worse.  Yet, who does it help?  Apart from a few elite Maori who have become millionaires from the process, there is no benefit to Maori overall.  Drive through Huntly or anywhere in Tuhoe and you won’t find any evidence of these multi hundred million dollar settlements.

Let’s be clear.  The Tribunal exists to make lawyers, and a few elite Maori very rich, and to give the impression that wrongs are being righted.  We all know the Crown breached the Treaty in the nineteenth century.  But by the time of my parents’ generation, this was behind us as a people…until the Tribunal dragged it all up again.

I will finish with a warning.  If you think the claims are nearly at an end, think again.  Hundreds of new claims are being planned right now.  These will challenge the Crown and seek compensation for the handling of the current settlement process.  Too many people have too much at stake for the claims process to end.