5 Dec 2023

Protests raise questions about next year's Waitangi day

From Checkpoint, 6:07 pm on 5 December 2023

In the wake of protests over the new government's policies on co-governance and the Treaty, the head of the Waitangi National Trust Board says it is important Treaty partners front up and have a conversation on 6 February.

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon says he intends to visit for Waitangi Day, as does ACT's David Seymour.

The protests taking place across New Zealand on Tuesday were part of a "National Māori Action Day", led by Te Pāti Māori and iwi, to challenge the government over its policies on the Treaty of Waitangi, and other policies affecting Māori.

Waitangi National Trust Board chairperson Pita Tipene expected for that sentiment to flow through on Waitangi Day.

"Clearly, the Māori people see it as an attack on the Treaty of Waitangi and the constitutional basis of this country," Tipene said.

These include switching from Māori to English names on various government departments, rewriting legislation to make mentions of the principles of the Treaty more specific, and progressing an ACT bill calling for the principles to be set down under its own prescription, rather than decades of jurisprudence.

Ngāti Hine leader Pita Tipene

Ngāti Hine leader Pita Tipene Photo: RNZ

Tipene told Checkpoint there was no invite list for politicians per se, and the doors of the Trust were open for all to come along. 

"Given that it is a Waitangi Day commemorations period, it's really important that the Treaty of Waitangi is the focus, and therefore the Treaty partners should front up and have a conversation."

He would be disappointed, but not surprised, if parties in government were not represented there on the day. 

"It has happened before where governments or political parties have chosen not to front up at Waitangi."

Seymour told Checkpoint he believed Tuesday's demonstrations were about people protesting against dialogue around Te Tiriti principles.

"This government believes that New Zealand has been increasingly divided by an obsession with identity politics and race fanaticism on the parts of some activists where everything is viewed through the prism of race rather than humanity and human need. And we want to have constructive dialogue about how we return to the universal human rights that the likes of Kate Shepherd built this country on."

Debating the Treaty

Tipene acknowledged Seymour's openness for a face-to-face debate and his efforts in speak te reo at Waitangi last year, but said the problem was his approach.

"We, at the Waitangi National Trust, want a safe and secure environment for the Treaty partners to have a very considered and pointed discussion and debate on what it means, because we have to frame this up in a way that sheds more light on the situation and less heat, so we want people to be cool and collected and having that debate.

"Last year, he [Seymour] turned up and spoke in te reo Māori, which I thought was a significant achievement on his part, maybe the messages weren't that well received by all - but in him giving a go at speaking te reo Māori, I thought it was significant.

"We're slowly but surely approaching the bicentennial of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, amongst other key milestones, so we need to have that debate. 

"I just think he's placed it in the wrong place, politically. He's placing it on a political platform and he's also saying we need to end division by race, racism and separatism. 

"So while he's saying let's have the debate, and every New Zealander should have the debate, he's framed it up within racism and separatism, whereas I think we need to have that debate but within a much more proactive framework."

Asked if he had spoken with his whānau, hāpu and iwi about the Treaty policy direction, he said: "I've certainly spoken with whānau and I think frankly the way that you frame it up, that somehow a person's views are only valid if they've come to them in a certain formula is exactly the kind of prejudice and bigotry that I thought we're supposed to be against."

However, Tipene said he did not believe honouring the Treaty had led to racism.

"The way I certainly view is that when Governor [William] Hobson stood up on 6 February, 1840 and said 'he iwi tahi tatou', he was saying clearly we are two different people but one race, so we need to accept that."

Division 'going to challenge this country' - Tipene

Tipene told Checkpoint he was very worried about division in the country.

"I think during the lead up to the elections there were a whole lot of messages that were increasing division and separatism in our nation. I think people need to use the right language and frame it up in a positive way."

He did not believe a referendum on the Treaty was needed.

"When you hear, Jim Bolger and Chris Finlayson who say we can do without this, coming through government, we've got much bigger things to be focusing on right now; If the politicians now are not listening to those statements from the recent past then you've got to ask what the rationale is for why they're trying to ram this through."

Te reo names in government agencies

As part of its coalition agreement with New Zealand First, the National Party agreed all public services would have their primary name in English, except for those specifically related to Māori.

Tipene said it was "absolutely stupid" to take te reo names away from government agencies.

"The point was made this morning on the various marches is that there's been some hard-won achievements over the recent years and those are being eroded in no time, and it's taking this country back, backwards. 

"So looking ahead to Waitangi, all I can say is that we want to create an environment where we can have a safe, and well-considered discussion and debate."

Luxon suggested the government should be given more time to deliver better outcomes for Māori and said they were determined to do better than in delivering outcomes than the previous government.

Tipene said the new government's progress for Māori would be measured by health and education stats among other things.

"More importantly, and I don't think it's misaligned with what the National Party is all about, which is what I call 'mana motuhake' or self-reliance and independence as people work on solutions that suit themselves and so if that can be achieved, and I think the National government has done that in the past, then that's a good sign."