When talking of the outrageous Waitangi Tribunal ruling that Ngapuhi did not recognise British sovereignty, nor the sovereignty of today’s New Zealand, I pointed out that Ngapuhi were in fact at the forefront of asking for British intervention. It was suggested that I pull together a list of actual Ngapuhi actions leading to 1840, and following. Here is the result.
The breakup of the country of New Zealand and the end of an equal democracy is now mainstream politics. The Maori Party insists that any future coalition would depend on “creating a Te Tiriti-centric Aotearoa”, and that “accepting the recommendations of a milestone Waitangi Tribunal report is a bottom line for the party”.
The report referred to is Te Paparahi o Te Raki (Wai 1040), a Waitangi Tribunal ruling on claims by a number of hapu of the Northland Ngapuhi iwi. Stage one of the inquiry, which began in May 2010 and concluded with closing submissions in February 2011, resulted in a report in 2014 which claimed that Ngapuhi never ceded their sovereignty when they signed the Treaty of Waitangi. Stage two in 2022 found “the Crown breached the Treaty’s principles by proclaiming sovereignty over the North Island and other parts of New Zealand and recommended the Crown apologise, return all Crown-owned land in the north to local Maori, compensate, and work with Maori to determine constitutional processes and institutions that give effect to what was agreed in the treaty.” The reference to “what was agreed in the treaty” refers to the modern, false, interpretation that there was no handing over of sovereignty, that the agreement was for division and partnership, that we have never been one people.
The suggestion that Ngapuhi never ceded sovereignty, and were duped by the British, is bizarre nonsense. In fact, senior Ngapuhi chiefs were at the forefront in interaction with British missionaries and traders, and led with calls for help, for friendship, for Britain to be a guardian, and for the eventual handover of sovereignty – after which those same senior chiefs worked closely with the Governors.
They had discussed related issues many times across many years. One early milestone was the 1820 voyage to England by Hongi Hika, when he became familiar to the peaceful British way of life, so very different from the lawlessness and killing in New Zealand under the sway of tribal tikanga. He must have become largely bilingual, as were many later chiefs.
Hongi Hika’s return with many firearms paid for by gifts from the gullible British led to a further explosion of savage fighting. At the same time, missionaries had come to live among the Maori. A conference convened by the missionaries in Kerikeri in November 1825, in which seven leading Ngapuhi chiefs participated – Hongi, Rewa, Titore, Hihi, Ururoa, Pakira, and Tamati Waka Nene – showed that the love of war was diminishing among many Ngapuhi warriors, who were questioning their way of life and recognising a better alternative.
When addressing his countrymen, the other chiefs present, Hongi said: “The gentlemanship of the English is not altogether derived from their forefathers, but from their great learning.” Pakira followed with a similar sentiment: “If we had the same desire to learn the European arts that we have to learn our own nonsense, we should have understood many things before now.
In 1831, thirteen Ngapuhi chiefs and the Church Missionary Society missionaries gathered at Kororipo Pa to compose a letter to the British government, expressing friendship and asking for assistance. “We are a people without possessions. We have nothing but timber, flax, pork, and potatoes, we sell these things however to your people and then we see the property of Europeans. It is only thy land which is liberal towards us. From thee also come the missionaries who teach us to believe on Jehovah God, and on Jesus Christ, his Son. We have heard that the tribe of Marian is at hand coming to take away our land, therefore we pray thee to become our friend and the guardian of these islands, lest the tearing of other tribes should come near to us, and lest strangers should come and take away our land.” Their concern was for protection from both other powerful nations and from the many tribes with which Ngapuhi was at war.
There was no national government of New Zealand with which Britain could reach agreement. The only action possible was to send a Consular Agent, James Busby, in 1833.
Busby was asked to use his influence as far as possible. “It is possible by your official mediation the evils of intestine war between rival chiefs or hostile tribes may be avoided and their differences peaceably and permanently composed. It is also possible that at your suggestion and by the aid of your counsels, some approach may be made by the natives towards a settled form of government”.
The Ngapuhi chiefs continued to discuss and develop ideas, with Busby as well as with missionaries. Busby made it clear that any effective British involvement could only follow an agreement with a sovereign power. With that in mind Busby drafted a letter setting out the aim of forming a national body, “The United Tribes of New Zealand”. This was presented to a meeting of thirty-four northern Maori chiefs (including Tamati Waka Nene and Bay of Islands brothers Te Wharerahi, Rewa, and Moka ‘Kainga-mataa’) at his residence at Waitangi in October 1835.
The aim, for united action in the future, is clearly stated. This was an agreement “to meet in Congress at Waitangi in the autumn of each year, for the purpose of framing laws for the dispensation of justice, the preservation of peace and good order, and the regulation of trade; and they cordially invite the Southern tribes to lay aside their private animosities and to consult the safety and welfare of our common country, by joining the Confederation of the United Tribes.”
The chiefs were here agreeing to a proposal set down by the British agent, with British concerns in mind. Despite the heading chosen by Busby, “Declaration of the Independence of New Zealand”, this letter was a local and not a national initiative: the national government of the United Tribes that could assert sovereignty and independence, govern and sign agreements with other nations, never did exist. That effort failed as no significant action was taken, while most other chiefs refused a national authority and each held on to their individual power.
Recent claims that this letter, or “declaration”, written by the British agent for the leaders of one northern iwi, was a national Maori assertion of sovereignty (referred to now as He Whakaputanga) – which Maori sovereignty remains today – are nonsense.
During those years the Ngapuhi chiefs had become active in the timber industry and travelled often to Australia. For example, Rewa had been in Sydney in 1830-31 and returned just in time to sign the 1831 letter, and Nene’s brother Patuone did not sign the 1835 letter as he was in Sydney on business. The failure to form a united national government showed that the only way to achieve the peaceful and prosperous lifestyle that they had observed in England and Australia was to come under the same umbrella of the British Crown.
Ngapuhi were to the fore in welcoming and signing the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi, in their tribal land. The undoubted senior chief of the time, Tamati Waka Nene, who taken part in all the discussions and had signed both the preceding letters, was strong in his support of the Treaty.
“What did we do before the Pakeha came? We fought, we fought continually. But now we can plant our grounds, and the Pakeha will bring plenty of trade to our shores. Then let us keep him here. Let us all be friends together. I am walking beside the Pakeha. … Do not thou go away from us; remain for us a father, a judge, a peacemaker. … Stay then, our friend, our father, our Governor.” There was no equivocation, no play on words, no co-governance – simply a clear statement understandable to all, a call for the British to come as “a father, a judge, a peacemaker, our friend, our Governor.”
Nene was to continue his support of the colonial government, in 1845 taking the first action against the rebel chief Hone Heke and continuing the fight alongside the British forces as both warrior and consultant to the Governor, acting jointly in 1848 with Te Wherowhero of Waikato as guarantors for Te Rauparaha, and attending the 1860 Kohimarama conference to support the government when war had started in Taranaki and was threatened in the Waikato.
There is no doubt that the senior leadership of Ngapuhi supported the Treaty of Waitangi, with the complete hand-over of sovereignty to the British Crown, and that they understood what was agreed to. They had discussed issues with many people from Britain for many years, had visited and were familiar with life under British government; after a long period of contact many (just as the missionaries and many settlers) had become bilingual. So long as the Treaty is between the Crown and Maori as represented by the senior rangatira, of each iwi, the position of Ngapuhi cannot be questioned.
The trick played by the Waitangi Tribunal has been to move from iwi (the whole tribe) to the many hapu (sub-tribes) of the iwi. Despite an overall accord of the tribe, the discord of smaller groups is given attention, and rewarded with an amazingly generous prize. The fragmentation of New Zealand is complete: firstly, there is division between Maori and “the other”; secondly between the many iwi and the rest of us; thirdly between the considerable number of hapu across the country and other New Zealanders whose lives will be dominated by the demands of localised, hierarchical extended family groups – each able to claim its individual sovereignty. The need to divide that is basic to co-governance is carried to ever more absurd extremes.
Few if any can have the time to challenge the complex web that has been woven by the Waitangi Tribunal – such as the very lengthy (1,839 pages) Te Paparahi o Te Raki report on the claims of a group of hapu (here denoting the plural) who differ from their iwi leaders. And we know well that no current authority would be willing to listen to any questioning of the madness that is destroying the country.
We could spend forever debating the breakup of our country into multiple sovereign tribal areas, or we could return to a modern civilisation, with two straightforward principles forming the basis for a unified nation.
1/ New Zealand is a sovereign nation with one democratically elected House of Parliament; the sovereignty of New Zealand is in the hands of ALL the people of New Zealand. Public goods, including Crown land, cannot be given away.
2/ All New Zealanders are born equal and live as equals. Equal in rights and duties. Equal in selecting every level of government. Equal in all legislation. Equal before the law.
Based on this, a challenge can go out to all political parties, to sign up to these basic principles with an unequivocal statement declaring the sovereignty of the one government of New Zealand, democratically elected by New Zealand citizen, all with equal rights and representation.
Dr John Robinson is a research scientist, who has investigated a variety of topics, including the social statistics of Maori. His recognition of fundamental flaws in the interpretation of nineteenth century Maori demographics led him to consider the history of those times in several books. This article was published at Breaking Views.