Waitangi Day, A Good Outcome for all Concerned.

A few weeks back I was stopped by an anti-Treaty protestor on Queen Street in Auckland who informed me in no uncertain terms that Egyptian explorers had discovered the islands of New Zealand a thousand years before the Polynesians, (shoving some photos of rocks that may or may not have Egyptian like markings on them under my nose as proof), therefore making null and void the Treaty of Waitangi. “A compelling case is it not?” he said nodding vigorously while I looked about desperately for an escape route.

Yes, Waitangi day is just around the corner, annual event that brings the crazies discontented and self-righteous out in force, folk represented at one extreme by privileged Pakeha like Mike Hosking whose line is that Maori just need to get over themselves, (I mean how likely would you be to just ‘get over’ an orchestrated and ongoing campaign designed to divest you of your most valuable asset), and at the other end by Maori radicals who would see all non-Maori sent ‘home’ tomorrow, an intellectually indefensible position that ignores the fact that most non-Maori have nowhere to go to, coming from genetic lines that have been here long enough to make us fully as one with the soil of these islands.

The series of events which lead us to the current state of affairs begins 175 years ago when a group of Maori chiefs signed a treaty with the British Crown at the northland settlement of Waitangi that gave the Crown the exclusive right to buy lands Maori wished to sell and in return, Maori were guaranteed full rights of ownership of their lands, forests, fisheries and other possessions and were given the rights and privileges of British subjects in return for their co-operation. Later that year the British claimed full sovereignty over these islands kicking off the story of modern New Zealand.

While some Maori leaders wanted no part of the British plans for these islands, others accepted that the growing wave of European migrants was not going to stop and they had better get used to it and find a way to adapt. Some also hoped that British law would unify the various the Tribes and put a stop to the endless wars of conquest and retribution that had been plaguing the Tangata Whenua (a Māori term that means ‘people of the land’) for the last several hundred years. For these tribal leaders, the Treaty of Waitangi was a pragmatic act that they hoped would secure a better future for Maori.




In many ways the Treaty was a resounding success. Unlike the less than satisfactory fate that befell almost every other colonised people at this time, the Maori were never racially marginalised nor excluded from the mainstream of political and social life. Maori men received full voting rights in the fledgling NZ democracy in 1867, (12 years before European men), and in 1893 all women, both Maori and Pakeha, were ‘allowed’ the right to vote.

The problem was land, the new settlers wanted it and Maori, still figuring their way around the European philosophy of land ownership, found themselves ripped off left right and centre and when land sales were not forthcoming, some new migrants took it upon themselves to form militias and simply take it at the point of a gun which lead to the only internal war New Zealand has ever experienced.

Between 1840 and 1860 Pakeha and Maori faced off in a series of conflicts that introduced the British to trench warfare (a Maori innovation) and the world to the concept of non-violent resistance, an idea developed and refined by Taranaki tribal leader Te Whiti. It was a brutal time and while Maori lost a great deal of land, they proved themselves to be a formidable foe, but in the end war proved to be the least effective way of appropriating land so for the next 120 years or so the Crown used legislation in various guises to sequester land as required, deliberately breaching the tenants of the Treaty under the guise of law.



Redmayne, Thomas:Attack on the Maori Pah at Rangiriri. [1863].


By the time the 1970s rolled around Maori had had enough and Dame Whina Cooper sparked a fire than wasn’t going to be put out when in 1975 when she led a march from Northland to Wellington protesting the unjust and ongoing confiscation of Maori lands. In 1978 Eva Rickard led an occupation of the Raglan Golf Course in the Waikato, an incendiary act that caused a great deal commotion, arrests and breast beating but she won, claiming back a large tract of ancestral land that had been ‘borrowed’ by the Government for the building of a WW2 airfield and that somehow had ending up as a golf course for local Pakeha.




1975: Dame Whina Cooper (aged 80) begins her historic land march


At the same time in Auckland a fuss was brewing over a parcel of land on Bastion Point, one that the Government had ‘borrowed’ in 1882 for strategic defence purposes, (it was feared that the Russian’s were planning an invasion and Bastion Point and its position overlooking the harbour entrance to Auckland was the perfect place for defensive gun impalements), and that had not been returned as promised.

It ended up in the hands of the Auckland City Council who in the early 1970’s were planning to sell off the land for housing development. This upset the local Iwi who moved in and after 507 days of ‘illegal’ occupation were forcibly removed by 600 police and army personnel. Messy as the whole business was, it proved a turning point for Maori. Bastion Point was eventually returned to the Iwi concerned and the era of intense soul-searching, apologies and financial restitution for past wrongs had begun.


Maori Protestors occupy Bastion Point 1977


The relationship between Pakeha and Maori has not always been easy but underneath all the shenanigans there has always been a strong impulse toward unity and by and large, two culturally disparate people have forged an extraordinary bond while building an exceptional first world democracy.

In the end Maori are only doing what the law allows, challenging a breach of contract and the reactionaries are doing what reactionaries do, finding ways of invalidating the Treaty for whatever ends they are serving. For the rest of us, the Treaty has given cause for honest self-reflection on the nature of justice, obligation, kinship, loyalty and nationhood and the result has been deeply rewarding for almost everyone concerned.


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