Pita Sharples 'The Treaty - you never know it'

Published: Tue 7 Oct 2008 05:36 PM
Auckland University Law Lecture Tuesday 7 October 2008; 2pm Dr Pita Sharples, Co-leader of the Maori Party 'The Treaty - you never know it'
I was struck by a comment I read the other day by veteran Treaty activist, Robert Consedine. Robert, who has worked in over 140 organisations including the police, hospitals, schools and government departments, supporting them in the challenge to apply Te Tiriti o Waitangi to their every day lives, confessed that when it comes to the Treaty, 'you never know it'. This from a renown Pakeha Treaty expert who has developed his profession in treaty education since the early 1980s. He went further:
"I read it every day, but you are never really on top of it, and that's what really keeps it alive for me. You are always developing what you are doing".
I found this reflection absolutely riveting.
If a person who spends every moment of his waking day, living, breathing and sharing the Treaty with over 50,000 people who have been through his workshops, and that person admits to never really be on top of it, then perhaps it is unsurprising that some politicians have such difficulty with basic questions around Treaty analysis. Take the United Future party for instance. In a release issued yesterday around the Maori seats, their leader complained that Parliament may be dominated by what he called "racially based seats".
Putting aside the arithmetic that 7 out of 121 would hardly be described as dominating; it is a sad indictment on our nation's educational history, that he misunderstood the very concept that as parties to the Treaty, Maori should at least be guaranteed representation in the organs of kawanatanga. Not to be outdone in Treaty confusion, we have the National Party suggesting *
Maori seats are unnecessary because MMP has seen the emergence of far higher numbers of Maori MPs; * and then a moment later saying they will initiate a referendum on MMP by 2011 and that National was going to initiate a process to remove the Maori seats at the completion of Treaty settlements process in 2014. So the very mechanism by which they suggest Maori representation has improved - MMP - is to be submitted to a referendum and the seats would be removed three years later. But the confusion doesn't just reside on one side of the House alone. Labour's policy on the Treaty is also open to question.
In August 2008, another Treaty practitioner was told that as far as Treaty clauses went, and I quote, "it's been Labour policy, for at least this term, not to include such clauses in Bills other than Treaty- related legislation". I took that question up directly with Dr Cullen in question time and he completely contradicted the earlier response. And then of course we have New Zealand First, who put their energy this last term into taking a Bill into the House, to remove Treaty principles from all legislation. So when Valmaine asked me to speak with you today, and I learnt that your interest was in how to entrench the Treaty, the Maori seats, the implication of the Treaty for ethnic minorities, and such like, I must admit, to being really excited. Indeed it is both refreshing and reassuring that a significant body of students is looking positively and proactively at our constitutional framework. And it is a huge contrast to the House of Representatives where some people seem to be driven by an anger evident in their call to abolish Maori seats; to delete Treaty references; to exclude Treaty clauses; to be Treaty-averse.
It is an anger which I do not understand. For, like Robert Consedine, we in the Maori Party simply cannot see what we have to run scared of, from a document which has been variously called a 'beacon for the future'; (Denese Henare); a 'legacy of promise' (Queen Elizabeth II); our 'nation's most powerful unifying symbol' (the late David Lange). That is why Te Tiriti o Waitangi is one of our three key aspirations in our long term plan.
We are calling for constitutional courage; to initiate a constitutional review to ensure arrangements can begin, to truly give effect to our founding document. The Community Sector Taskforce, in November 2006, issued a paper which gave life to a new way of working under a Tiriti/Treaty framework.
The new way of working, described the concept of a whare and a house as images of belonging and identity. The methodology explores two worldviews in the Tangata Whenua or the Tangata Tiriti house - tangata Tiriti referring to those people whose rights to live in this land derive from the Treaty. The Taskforce explored accountability under the Tiriti/Treaty relationship as being developed together by both of the parties; with the power to protect, to define and decide being an important standard for both individual and collective behaviour. This is but one model that will contribute to what we know will be a fundamental debate to promote the Treaty's commitment to partnership. We are also seeking to appoint, as an Officer of Parliament, a Parliamentary Commissioner whose role it is to proactively promote the Treaty's commitment to partnership. There are other key elements of our constitutional courage concept.
We want every child to know who they are, where they come from, what is the cultural heritage which gives them their unique footing in this world. In terms of immigration, we expect that all new citizens to Aotearoa should be able to learn about the history of this land, and to appreciate the context we all share from Te Tiriti o Waitangi. We want every New Zealander to appreciate the opportunities that Te Tiriti o Waitangi offers us all for a shared future. This is where the Maori seats are so critical - as indeed are Maori constituencies for the election of councillors in local government, or Maori representation across the range of state sector appointments. It is about having a say; Maori having an equitable say in the decisions which affect them. What can be so wrong with that? I've been really impressed by the work that Valmaine has done into therapeutic jurisprudence as a means of reducing the disproportionate volume of Maori offenders.
The concept behind it of establishing a specialist court in which Maori customs, ethics, values and norms become the mode of operations, is profoundly exciting. It's about having a say - enabling a move towards healing and restoration rather than punishment and retribution. This too, is ultimately what our Waitangi Settlement process was meant to be about.
Setting up a system by which tangata whenua could have a say. Our policy on Treaty settlements, promotes the significance of kotahitanga - the aim of achieving a unified purpose - through negotiation between chief-to-chief, and in and between iwi and hapu as well as with the Crown. The emphasis is all about dialogue, meaningful engagement, communication. We want, too, to see full funding for the Waitangi Tribunal to enable them to play a significant role in the delivery of justice and reconciliation. In talking about the settlements, I know that you were interested in hearing from me about my views on the claim from Black Power as one of the more than 2000 claims received this year before the 1 September cut off for historical claims. To be honest, I believe there has been more than enough coverage given this issue by various politicians and the media.
And yet the claim from the Trustees of the National Urban Maori Authority has hardly hit the headlines. That claim is submitted by Te Runanga o Nga Maata Waka; Whanganui a Tara Whanui Trust; Te Runanga o Kirikiriroa Charitable Trust; Manukau Urban Maori Authority Incorporated and Te Whanau o Waipareira Trust. It is a very significant claim which calls for an urgent inquiry on behalf of certain Maori living in urban localities - and interestingly their statement suggests their contemporary claim, by default, will also stand up for a large and growing number of non-Maori citizens in their communities trapped in the same socio-economic status. Again, it is about having a say.
A claim which itemises the way in which the Crown's failure to actively protect their tino rangatiratanga and their right to be Maori has resulted in which generations have been politically, economically and socially marginalised.
This claim - as with Black Powers - as with any of the other 1998 claims - must pass a statutory registration threshold - in that claimants must be Maori, and they must cite evidence of the Crown activity which breached the Treaty of Waitangi. Our position, as consistent with our over-riding analysis around Te Tiriti o Waitangi was that it was not our job to exclude, to delete, to abolish, to judge as is the practice of our parties and politicians. That role belongs to the Waitangi Tribunal. We choose instead to see Te Tiriti o Waitangi as a living, vibrant recipe for a healthy and thriving nation.
We choose to see Te Tiriti o Waitangi as the means of partnership between the Crown and Maori - a partnership based on good faith and active protection. We choose to value Te Tiriti o Waitangi as enabling Maori to determine the role, direction and autonomous development of their peoples, as encompassed in an understanding of rangatiratanga. We choose to recognise the Treaty as providing a unique prospect to achieve equity of treatment and equality of opportunity for all citizens. This Election you too, have the chance to make a choice. A choice to enable Maori to be setting the pathway forward, to give life to the concept that all who signed the Treaty envisaged a relationship between equals.
We refuse to be drawn into the contest of binary opposites - Labour or National; left or right; opposition or Government. Our focus has always been to present a strong and independent Maori voice in Parliament, and we have done this in every single Bill that has come before the House. We seek to move forwards, together, in a way which we absolutely believe will be for the benefit of all citizens in this land. And wasn't that what the promise of the Treaty was all about?

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