CONSTITUTIONAL AFFAIRS: by Bernard MoranNews Weekly
New Zealand's experience with indigenous land claims
, November 27, 2010
Julia Gillard has proposed a national referendum giving new recognition to Aboriginals. New Zealand journalist Bernard Moran writes about his own country's difficulties in placating the Maoris.When Captain Cook first visited New Zealand in 1769, local Maori would sometimes appear aggressive and warlike. Several were shot by British sailors who didn't understand that the aggression was a cultural ritual employed when encountering strangers.
Cook and his men soon came to terms with this bravado, but his reports to London on Maori warrior culture had far-reaching consequences. The British Government planned to use New Zealand as a penal colony. Instead they opted for New South Wales, because the Aborigines were believed to be more passive and far less of a handful than the vigorous Maori.
In early 2010, New Zealand's National Government promised its coalition partner, the Maori Party, a constitutional review, as part of the confidence and supply agreement. Prime Minister John Key in mid-November stated that there is no rush to a written constitution; all parties are planning for a "long conversation".
Until 1840, New Zealand was governed from New South Wales. Governor Sir George Gipps ordered Lieutenant-Governor William Hobson (a naval officer), on behalf of the Queen, to persuade Maori leaders to sign a treaty which would give British sovereignty over all of New Zealand.
It took Hobson seven days to gather 50 Maori chiefs, and the Treaty itself was drawn up by Hobson and two assistants over three days. No lawyers were involved and the Maori version differed in crucial parts from the English, a point of contention still today.
The Treaty of Waitangi was signed on February 6, 1840. The chiefs ceded sovereignty to the Queen; they retained full possession of their lands and became British subjects.
At that stage, Maori controlled New Zealand, but the terrible "Musket Wars" were a very recent memory. Between 1818 and the early 1830s, an estimated 20,000 Maori were killed in inter-tribal fighting. Ngapuhi in the north had acquired muskets from Sydney and sent war parties raiding south to settle ancient scores.
The only defence other tribes had was to buy muskets from traders through selling flax. Smaller tribes were wiped out. Once all the tribes had muskets, their fortresses became harder to capture and by the 1830s campaigns were hard to maintain. European diseases were taking their toll and general war-weariness brought an end to the fighting.
Land had been overrun by rival tribes and local populations had been decimated, which served to make land acquisition easier for the European settlers who started arriving in their thousands from 1841 on.
Maori chiefs who signed the treaty, had no idea that the settlers would come in such numbers. They saw their power and status being eroded, as well as their lands coming under threat from settlers eager to start farming.
In the 1860s, the Land Wars broke out with British regiments and local volunteer militia armed with artillery eventually prevailing. As British subjects who had rebelled against the Crown, Maori were punished with confiscation of their land, losing their economic base and confidence.
The aftermath left a legacy of deep bitterness and a sense of betrayal that the treaty had not been honoured, which lasted well into the 1970s and '80s. Relatively few white New Zealanders were aware of the hidden bitterness among Maori; they assumed that the country had "the best race relations in the world".
In the 1980s, a sea change occurred. Maori radical groups forged overseas links with indigenous "peoples" movements; protest marchers carried "Honour the Treaty" banners; and the annual Waitangi Treaty celebrations became the focus for confrontation between protesters and police.
However, in 1987, the NZ Court of Appeal ruled that the principles of the treaty required both partners to act toward each other reasonably and with the utmost good faith. Thus Parliament acknowledged that the treaty now provided the present and future framework for relations between Maori and the Crown.
The Waitangi Tribunal was established to hear submissions on land disputes and recommend resolution to the Crown. The tribunal travelled around the country and inevitably grew into a forum for the airing of grievances. Like South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, it provided a cathartic release for decades of bitterness.
Treaty settlements have involved millions of dollars and the return of land to provide a tribal economic base. Ngai Tahu in the South Island is an example of what can be achieved with enterprising vision and sound commercial judgment.
In early November, it was announced that Ngati Porou's chief negotiator would be travelling to Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne to gather the votes of an estimated 15,000 of the tribe's members to approve a unique deed of settlement with the Crown, to include NZ$110 million in cash and the return of land confiscated with no compensation.
Over the next year, New Zealanders have to face the hugely contentious Marine and Coastal Area Bill, which makes it easier for tribal ownership of certain shorelines, particularly those stretches deemed wahi tapu
Australians are already familiar with issues associated with Aboriginal sacred sites. Deeply ingrained in every Pakeha (i.e., non-Maori) Kiwi is his or her sacred right to access to the coastline, the "Queen's Chain".