Updated: May 15
Don writes, "Sorting out some old papers today I came across the speech below. It was given in 2004 but it seems to me it is still highly relevant. I’m inviting readers to guess who wrote it."
IN HER SPEECH FROM THE THRONE, at the opening of the 47th Parliament in August 2002, the Governor-General, Dame Silvia Cartwright, said this: “The basis of constitutional government in this country is to be found in its founding document, the Treaty of Waitangi. My government values and remains committed to strengthening its relationship with tangata whenua. That means fulfilling its obligations as a Treaty partner.”
In my address to you this evening, I hope to demonstrate both the falsity – and the danger – of Dame Silvia’s claims. It is my contention that elevating the Treaty of Waitangi to the status of a “founding document”, and declaring it to be the “basis of constitutional government in this country”, constitutes the single biggest obstacle to preserving the national integrity of New Zealand. I hope to show, that the only way to build a progressive, 21st Century nation, is to make sure the Treaty is decently reburied where it should have been allowed to rest in honourable peace - the past.
Let us then return to the past and examine the world into which the Treaty of Waitangi intruded on 6 February 1840. First and foremost it was a Maori world. New Zealand was in the hands of between eighty and one hundred thousand indigenous people; they controlled most of the country’s habitable regions, and it was by their laws and customs that New Zealand was governed.
That was the problem.
The laws and customs of this warlike Polynesian culture had proved inadequate to the challenge of modernity. In the course of twenty to thirty years 20,000 individuals – roughly a fifth of the entire population – had fallen victim to what we now call “The Musket Wars”.
A one-in-five casualty rate represents loss of life on a scale only matched by the Soviet Union during the Second World War. And it was not just the mass killings that undermined the morale of Maori in the 1810s and 1820s, it was the profound dislocation of tribal life. Hapu and whanau groups that had lived for centuries on the same lands suddenly found themselves without a place to stand.
By the end of the Musket Wars in the 1830s, New Zealand was like Europe at the end of World War II. Thousands of displaced persons traversed the countryside – most of them widows and orphans. The minds of an entire generation were filled with traumatic memories of rapine, pillage and wanton slaughter. It was a country of weak and powerful, winners and losers, masters and slaves.
Little wonder, then, that the more thoughtful Maori leaders looked to the super-power of the era, Great Britain, for succour. In exactly the same way that a blasted and broken Europe saw the United States as its saviour, Maori saw some sort of accommodation with the British Empire as their only hope of recovery. This feeling was intensified by the very real threat of falling under the sway of the French, or even the Americans.
Those who insist that the Maori could not possibly have meant to sign away their independence, should think about the scale of the disaster that had overwhelmed their society when it was still the master of its own fate. Just as it took the carnage of World War II to produce the European Union, it took the mass slaughter and dislocation of the Musket Wars to produce the Treaty of Waitangi.
Today, we hear a tremendous amount about the Treaty’s Second Article – the one which guarantees tino rangatiratanga – the power of the chiefs. But, I would argue that, in 1840, the article that really resonated with the chieftains gathered at Waitangi, was the Third Article.
Let me read it to you in full:
In consideration thereof Her Majesty the Queen of England extends to the Natives of New Zealand her royal protection and imparts to them all the Rights and Privileges of British Subjects.
“Extends to them Her royal protection”. This was the UN Charter of its time. The guarantee that “the scourge of war” would never again lacerate the flesh of Maoridom. They would become “British Subjects”.
And being a British Subject meant something in the Nineteenth Century, just as “civis Romanus sum” - I am a Roman Citizen - meant something in the First. In 140 AD, a Roman Citizen could travel from the borders of Scotland to the deserts of Syria without fear of molestation. In 1840 AD a British Subject could traverse the entire world with a similar expectation.
So, the Treaty of Waitangi transformed a Maori peace based upon a rough balance of terror between the victorious tribes, and, if the truth be told, their sheer psychological exhaustion, into a Pax Britannica – a peace based upon the superior firepower - and superior institutions - of the British Empire.
But, though the Treaty saved a people, it could not build a nation.
Nationhood is a modern concept – the greatest legacy of the Age of Revolutions which lasted from 1789 to 1848. It presupposes a consciousness of cultural homogeneity, political unity, and economic self-sufficiency.
As Hongi Heke’s 1845 depredations in the Far North confirmed, a collection of proud and mutually suspicious iwi and hapu could not be trusted to form a coherent nation. It was precisely this political reality which the Maori King Movement recognised, and attempted to transcend, in the 1850s and 60s.
Colonists from Great Britain, on the other hand, not only could build, but fully intended to build, what Professor Jamie Belich calls “a Better Britain” at the bottom of the world.
Which is why the year which marks the true birth of the New Zealand nation state is not 1840, but 1852.
It was in 1852 that the New Zealand colonists were granted a constitution – and a measure of self-government – by the British Parliament. By 1854, those same colonists had elected their own Parliament, and were ready to take New Zealand’s destiny into their own hands.
From that moment the Treaty ceased to have any real relevance to the growth of the New Zealand State. Why? Because Her Majesty the Queen of England was no longer the person in charge. The “person” in charge was now a body called “The Government of New Zealand”, and the Government of New Zealand had no intention of allowing the pace of national development to be determined by the country’s indigenous inhabitants.
What the immigrants flowing into New Zealand needed was land, and no Treaty “made with naked savages by a consul invested with no plenipotentiary powers” – as a representative of the New Zealand Company condescendingly described “New Zealand’s founding document”, was going to be allowed to dictate the terms of its acquisition.
A new generation of Maori leaders, men and women who had grown up under the British Peace, and for whom the Musket Wars were, at most, a distant memory, attempted to reach some sort of power-sharing arrangement with the new Settler State – to no avail.
It was simply too late. By the time the King Movement decided to stop selling land to the Pakeha, the latter already outnumbered the Maori population by several thousand. There was now only one way the future course of New Zealand’s development was going to be settled – and that was by war.
I have often been struck by the historical coincidence of the New Zealand Land Wars and the American Civil War. In many respects the New Zealand conflict – like its American counterpart - was also a civil war.
Many Maori chieftains, recognising the futility of opposing the Settler State, sent levies of their own warriors to fight alongside the Imperial troops. The King Movement’s claim that two sovereignties could co-exist peacefully within the same state was rejected. They knew that their people’s only hope of survival lay in finding a new place to stand in the nation the Settler State was so clearly determined to build.
The defeat of the tribes is also reminiscent of the suppression of the Scottish clans 120 years earlier. Like the Maori, the Highland clansmen were a proud and warlike people who placed enormous importance on honour, valour, and lineage. They would have been content to go on raising their cattle (and stealing their neighbour’s) forever, but the same economic and political forces that later drove Scotsmen half way around the world to places like Waipa and Dunedin, goaded the clansmen into direct conflict with the ruthlessly centralising British State.
Like the Maori, the clansmen went down. Forbidden to speak their own language and wear the traditional plaid, they were driven off their lands into a marginal existence of material and cultural destitution. My own ancestors were among those dispossessed, and a tear comes to my eye whenever I hear the Skye Boat Song – still, I know that I weep in vain, and that Charlie will no come back again.
The loss of land and culture was no less a tragedy for the Maori than it was for the Scots. But history is littered with such tragedies. Using the same legal arguments employed by the English to subdue the Celtic fringe during the Eighteenth Century, the Pakeha settlers set about confiscating the lands of the defeated tribes.
But were the actions of the Pakeha conquerors of the 1860s really all that different from the actions of the Ngati Awa conquerors of the 1830s? The latter took the Chatham Islands from the Moriori – not because they had the right to do it, but because they had the might to do it. It’s been that way ever since Joshua played the trumpet at Jericho.
The blood of the Land Wars baptised the New Zealand State. For settler politicians eager to get on with the business of nation-building, the question of who exercised sovereignty in these islands had been settled beyond any further dispute. The ruthlessness with which the Government suppressed Te Whiti’s resistance at Parihaka in 1881, was proof of what was now the Settler Nation’s determination to let the dead bury their dead.
Our 19th Century forebears did not berate themselves for the miseries they heaped upon the Maori. Back then people simply didn’t think in those terms. The superiority of European civilisation was never seriously questioned – not even by the Maori.
They wanted what everybody else wanted. The tastier and more nutritious food, the warmer and more comfortable clothing, the larger and more weatherproof dwellings, the more efficient steel tools and agricultural equipment, the horses, cattle and sheep that made life so much easier than it had been before the arrival of the Pakeha. Indeed, so adept were the Maori at utilising Pakeha technology that, throughout the 1850s they easily outperformed the settler population at just about everything. They were more literate, published livelier newspapers, were better farmers, and competed more successfully as businessmen.
The Young Maori Party which rose to prominence at the beginning of the 20th Century encouraged Maori to learn the ways of the Pakeha – especially in respect to health and hygiene. Sir Apirana Ngata urged Maori to master the latest farming techniques and use them to improve the value of their communally owned land-holdings. Preservation of the traditional culture was to go hand-in-hand with acquiring the skills required to survive in the Pakeha’s complex civilisation.
And what a civilisation it was. By the early 1900s New Zealand enjoyed a reputation as one of the most progressive nations on Earth. Our welfare state ranked second only to Germany’s. Our women were the first to enjoy the franchise. The Plunket Society was breaking new ground in child health. And, our system of industrial arbitration and conciliation was the envy of the world.
Freed from the rigid class system of England, New Zealanders gloried in their egalitarianism and progressiveness. A visiting French academic described them as “socialists without doctrines” and marvelled at the ease with which important social reforms were achieved.
Sunshine, fresh air and a wholesome diet had transformed New Zealanders into the “Better Britons” they always knew they could be. When the ANZACs marched through the streets of London during the First World War, they were greeted with awe. In the eyes of the ill-fed, poorly-housed and care-worn Cockneys who watched them pass, they must have looked like young gods.
Even the Great Depression could not quell the innate optimism of the New Zealand spirit. Men like Gordon Coates were not afraid to experiment with new ways of organising the New Zealand economy. Protectionism and stabilisation had yet to be turned into dirty words. But, of course, it was the election of the First Labour Government that truly opened the floodgates of reform, transforming New Zealand over the course of 14 memorable years into the “social laboratory of the South Seas”.
The celebration of New Zealand’s centennial in 1940, though overshadowed by the war, looked forward to a future characterised by technological and social progress. The signing of the Treaty was remembered as the moment when Maori very sensibly embraced the inevitability of British colonisation – as well as all the benefits of its imperium. Nobody back then talked about “partnership”.
The key to it all was confidence. Had New Zealanders not been so confident that the nation they had built was founded in justice and equality, they could not have been so blissfully future-oriented. Had they not been so confident that the way in which they treated New Zealand’s indigenous people was fair and reasonable, they could not have been so sure of their country’s moral worth - nor so certain that its race-relations were “second to none”.
Keith Sinclair’s A History of New Zealand, published in 1959, reinforced this sense of national confidence. The nation’s story was one of unstoppable – and often inspirational – social and economic progress. Like the motto on the New Zealand Coat of Arms, the watchword of the 1940s, 50s and 60s was - “Onward”.
It was in the 1970s that the Golden Weather came to an end. And it wasn’t just Britain’s entry into the EEC that brought down the rain. There was something else – something which, by the late 60s and early 70s, had become impossible to ignore – the massive migration of Maori from the country to the city.
For nearly a century the losers of our colonial past, immured in a rural hinterland they occupied but no longer owned, had remained safely out of sight and out of mind. But now, here they were, a new and often troubling feature of the New Zealand urban landscape. Like their Pacific Island brothers, pouring into the country by the planeload to do the work that Pakeha now disdained, Maori had come to town.
The enduring success of the Scandinavian welfare states is attributed by a growing number of sociologists to the relative homogeneity of their populations. It is only when “sameness” in theory is matched by “sameness” in reality, they say, that the redistributive impulse makes sense. A society made up of a single ethnic group, which operates according to the norms of a single culture, and where there are no great extremes of wealth or poverty, has a much better chance of preserving its egalitarian traditions and the institutions based upon them, than a society comprised of a multitude of different races and cultures, but dominated - both economically and politically - by a single ethnic group.
Throughout the 1950s and well into the 1960s, urban New Zealand resembled the former. By the 1970s, however, it was beginning to look more and more like the latter. At the lower reaches of the social hierarchy, in particular, where labour market competition was at its fiercest, the intrusion of Maori and Pacific Island immigrants gave rise to overt racism.
What’s more, when the long post-war boom finally petered out at the end of the 1970s, and unemployment began to rise, it was the last people hired who became the first people fired – almost always the men and women with brown faces. The mechanisms of the welfare state, designed to assist citizens temporarily down on their luck, immediately kicked into action. Only now the citizens lining up for benefits and state houses were a different colour, and from a different culture.
A growing number of Pakeha New Zealanders felt uneasy at the change. They didn’t mind paying taxes to support people “like us”, they muttered into their beer, but they weren’t at all happy about handing over money to people “like them”.
The Maori were no happier about the situation than the Pakeha. Ripped out of their rural communities, deprived of the cultural nurture of their kaumatua, herded into the barren housing estates and rigidly disciplined factories provided by the dominant culture, they felt cast adrift in new and hostile seas. The scorn and suspicion of many of their Pakeha neighbours was palpable – and deeply distressing. At school their children struggled to adapt to the norms of a culture into which their people had only partially assimilated.
Small wonder that the rising generation of Maori – people such as Syd, Hannah and Moana Jackson, Pat Hohepa, Annette Sykes, Shane Jones, Derek Fox, Ken Mair and Tariana Turia – cried “Enough! We will not be treated like second-class citizens in our own land!”
Through the screens of their television sets they had seen the struggle for civil rights and national self-determination in the United States, Northern Ireland and South Africa. Were their stories so different form those of Southern Negroes, Native Americans, Irish Catholics, and Black South Africans?
They began seeking out the wisdom of their elders, and listening to the stories of theft and fraud surrounding the loss of their tribal lands. And in every story of confiscation, in every account of betrayal and injustice, one motif recurred again and again, rising like the Southern Cross to dominate the historical sky – The Treaty.
Not the Treaty that Pakeha knew, the rat-eaten remnants of which were housed in the National Archives, but a different Treaty. The Treaty that Maori spoke of was a mystical covenant, a magic bond between the mana of their ancestors and the mana of Victoria Regina, Queen of England, Chief of Chiefs. In the eyes of the old people it was the Pakeha who had betrayed them, the Pakeha who had stolen their land, the Pakeha who had torn up their sacred agreement with the British Crown, and denied them the “royal protection” it had so solemnly pledged at Waitangi all those years ago.
Young Pakeha New Zealanders had watched the same events unfold on their television screens, and many of them threw themselves into the world-wide struggle against colonialism, war and racial prejudice with every bit as much energy as their Maori counterparts. They, too, began asking the tough historical questions; they too began challenging the hallowed “creation myths” of the Settler Nation.
These two fast-flowing streams came together in 1975 – the year of the Maori Land March, and the year in which the Third Labour Government established the Waitangi Tribunal.
But 1975 was also the year of Rob’s Mob and National’s election landslide. Older Pakeha New Zealanders were not yet ready to relinquish their myths.
But Rob Muldoon’s - and Keith Sinclair’s - New Zealand, the New Zealand of unstoppable and inspirational progress, was living on borrowed time. Over the course of the next five years, the confidence that had built, and largely sustained, the Settler Nation began to falter. Like water stains seeping through wallpaper, the darker aspects of New Zealand’s “progressive” history began intruding upon the nation’s consciousness.
Maori were not the only one’s who had been short changed. Women, children, the disabled, homosexuals, the mentally ill – all had suffered at the hands of the “Better Britons” who had constructed the Settler Nation. Behind closed curtains, behind high walls, behind prison bars, scenes of domestic and institutional horror had passed unacknowledged and unreproved by just about everyone in the Settler Nation.
But not its poets.
In 1969 James K. Baxter wrote:
Your civil calm breeds inward poverty
That chafes for change. The ghost of Adam
Gibbering demoniac in drawing-rooms
Will drink down hemlock with his sugared tea.
By 1981 it was not only the poets who could see
The glutton seagulls squabbling over crusts
And policies made and broken behind locked doors
By 1981 the country was split down the middle – ostensibly by the Springbok Rugby Tour – but at a deeper level between those who wanted to redefine the terms of social and economic progress in New Zealand, and those determined to preserve intact the historical legacy of the Settler Nation.
We all know who won. How could we not? The New Zealand of Rob Muldoon and Keith Sinclair no longer exists, and in its place we have erected – what?
Ah yes, that really is the question? What sort of nation have we become?
Let’s begin by saying what we have not become. We have not become more homogeneous. Quite the reverse, in fact. New Zealanders today are taught to celebrate diversity and believe in identity. We define ourselves according to our age, our gender, our ethnicity, our sexuality, our locality and our liquidity – but hardly ever by our common humanity.
“Onward” no longer appears on the New Zealand Coat of Arms.
And the young men and women who ran onto Rugby Park, occupied buildings, and battled with the riot squad in the streets of Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland? Well, they are now the middle-aged men and women who are running the country. Over the past twenty years they have destroyed just about all the old myths from which the Settler Nation derived its confidence – not to mention its legitimacy – and seem inordinately proud of the devastation they have wrought. But ask them what sort of nation they intend to erect in its place, and you are met with an ominous silence.
On paper, and behind the closed doors of seminar-rooms they are less reticent about the future. Margaret Wilson, for example, when she was still a law professor at Waikato University, declared:
“[T]he notion of constitutionalism which is the foundation of western democratic liberal government, must accommodate cultural diversity in accordance with the conventions of mutual recognition, consent and cultural continuity[.]”
In layman’s language, what the Minister for Treaty Settlements is saying is that our democratic system of government must give way to a system which recognises and enshrines the political beliefs of traditional Maori culture.
That traditional Maori culture was rigidly hierarchical, sexually exclusive, and, in political terms, aristocratic, anti-democratic and discriminatory, does not appear to have given Ms Wilson the slightest pause for thought.
Such notions do however trouble one of this country’s leading historians. W.H. Oliver has analysed two of the Waitangi Tribunal’s major reports, and, in an excellent essay entitled “The Future behind Us” concluded that they provide examples of “a historical mentality less concerned to recapture past reality than to embody present aspiration”.
The Tribunal, if Oliver is correct, has taken it upon itself to construct an entire alternative mythology to that of the now discredited and unwanted Settler Nation. There is, he says, a “millennialist” quality about the Tribunal’s approach:
“There is a fleeting golden age of promise, a fall from grace, a recovery from the fall, and the timeless principles of truth persisting through denial and adversity … What was lost in the past through the fall is being recovered by the movement towards justice which the Tribunal embodies [leading] beyond description of past sufferings to the delineation of a past which did not occur but might have – to a retrospective utopia.”
In other words, those of us living in the present are being called upon to not only redress the wrongs of the past, but to also acquiesce in the creation of the nation that should have resulted from the Treaty of Waitangi – but didn’t. Harking back to my earlier comments about the Scottish clans, it’s a bit like saying that England should reconfigure its entire constitution on the premise that Bonnie Prince Charlie won the Battle of Culloden in 1745 – not the Duke of Cumberland.
Such a nation could only be created by force. This is why – returning at last to the words of Dame Silvia Cartwright – it is so dangerous to describe the Treaty as “the basis of constitutional government in this country”.
The Treaty she is talking about is not the one understood by Pakeha, but the Treaty I described earlier, the Maori Treaty of Waitangi – the Treaty in which the only “partner” recognised by Maori is the Crown. And let me assure you, that when the Maori power-brokers talk about the Crown, they are not referring to the symbol representative of all the people of New Zealand, but to the Executive and Judicial arms of the State, the arms least constrained by the popular will – the will of the majority.
I believe that Pakeha New Zealanders instinctively understand this distinction, which is why so many of them are so wary of the Treaty. It also explains, I think, the extraordinary response to the speech Don Brash delivered to the Orewa Rotary Club on 27 January this year. In essence, what Dr Brash was saying was that if it is to come down to a choice between the Settler Nation, and the nation proposed by Margaret Wilson and the Waitangi Tribunal, he – and the overwhelming majority of New Zealanders – will take the Settler Nation.
And if that was the only choice – so would I.
But it isn’t.
We can build a nation that is neither a return to the monocultural values of Nineteenth Century, nor the aristocratic values of the Fourteenth.
It will be a nation that understands and accepts its past for what it is: a bold, often tragic, occasionally immoral, but ultimately successful exercise in nation-building, a process which ended-up producing an extraordinary people – the New Zealanders.
In every one of those New Zealanders there is a part that is Maori, and a part that is Pakeha. Because the truth of the matter is that, as Jamie Belich puts it in Making Peoples, the two races “helped each other invent their substantive identities”. We fair-skinned Polynesians are not – and never will be – “Europeans”. Just as contemporary Maori are not – and can never be again – the Maori who inhabited these islands before colonisation. Both of us are the victims of historical forces too vast for blame, too permanent for guilt.
Our most urgent task, now, is to recover that confidence in the future that made New Zealand possible. I believe that can only be achieved through a new covenant – not a treaty this time, but a constitution. A document in which, for the first time, Maori recognise Pakeha, not as tauiwi – outsiders – but as tangata – human-beings; and where, again, for the first time, we Pakeha recognise Maori, not as British Subjects – “protected” by an English aristocrat - but as full and equal citizens of the New Zealand Republic which – I am firmly convinced – will be the next, fascinating chapter in our Nation’s story.
The writer of the speech was Chris Trotter. The first correct response came from Bill Crocker who emailed the site direct. So Bill wins the chocolate fish and bragging rights. And well done to a couple of other commenters who also suggested the speech was the work of Chris Trotter.