18 Jun 2010

'One-nation myth' needs correcting, tribunal told

8:28 pm on 18 June 2010

The Waitangi Tribunal has been told that New Zealand's constitutional arrangements are based on a fairy tale.

The tribunal has been sitting at Waitangi this week, hearing Ngapuhi grievances involving the 1835 New Zealand Declaration of Independence and the Treaty of Waitangi.

The spokesperson for a number of Hokianga hapu, Haami Piripi, says New Zealand has fooled itself as a nation into believing that sovereignty was legitimately acquired by the Crown.

Mr Piripi says the evidence produced so far shows that Ngapuhi chiefs never dreamed of ceding sovereignty, and did not do so.

He says that means the stories told in the school curriculum, in public affairs and in the mass media about how New Zealand became one nation are incorrect.

That myth, he says, is one of the reasons New Zealand is so dysfunctional in terms of its Maori population - and it needs to be acknowledged and put right.

Intentions 'made clear' in letter

Earlier, Ngapuhi scholar Manuka Henare told the tribunal that Maori who signed the Treaty expected the British to help them build a state, rather than seize power.

Dr Henare said the chiefs' intentions were made very clear in a letter to Bishop Jean-Baptiste Pompallier, the first Catholic bishop stationed in New Zealand.

They told the bishop they thought of their fledgling nation as a ship and wanted a helmsman to help steer it - but in signing the Treaty they did not sell the ship.

The letter is known to historians, Dr Henare said, but has not featured in mainstream European histories about the Treaty period.

'More like a free-trade agreement'

Dr Henare contends that the Maori language of the Treaty - not the English translation - has to be understood in the context of Whakaputanga, the New Zealand Declaration of Independence signed five years earlier in 1835.

He says it was more like a free-trade agreement between two sovereign nations. Ngapuhi envisaged the British setting up a civil administration to keep order among settlers - while they, Ngapuhi, kept ultimate authority.

The hearing now adjourns to August, possibly in Hokianga.