9 Jul 2024

Mata Season 2 | Episode 12: An Extended Interview with Tama Potaka

From Mata with Mihingarangi Forbes , 5:00 pm on 9 July 2024

The Minister for Māori Development is standing by what language experts call a "factually incorrect" translation of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

A group of 27 licensed Māori translators have hit out at the upcoming Treaty Principles Bill, calling the translation of te Tiriti it's based on "deeply misleading".

Speaking to RNZ's Mata, Minister Tama Potaka admitted he did not know who in the ACT Party did the translation and reaffirmed his party's commitment to seeing the bill pass its first reading.

"I've seen the letter, and I'm very appreciative of it.

"I'm not aware of who within the ACT Party has been involved in doing this work. It's very important to me to ensure we follow through on our coalition commitments, but we also follow through on some of the genuine concerns of our that our mātanga reo have raised."

Asked whether he would continue to support the bill even if concerns around the quality of the translation continued, Potaka said he was "bound by coalition commitments".

"I will continue to raise the genuine concerns of constituents and mātanga reo. I will take those issues forward."

'Based on distortions'

Language revitalist Piripi Walker - one of the 27 signatories - told RNZ the translation was a "bluff".

"It turns out that it's false, it's kind of a bluff. It was able to be worked on during the election campaign, but it's based on distortions.

"The question is whether the government wants to be led along a very narrow and dangerous path by that kind of thinking." 

Walker said the quality of translation that goes through Parliament should be of the highest quality.

"Translation is a humble profession. It is not easily understood by a lot of people because it just does its work, quietly. But that's the point. It's got its own disciplines and rules and requirements to be pono or truthful.

"When you work with material from the history, you're not allowed to pretend that it is something else. You're not allowed to distort it or introduce things that aren't in there, and you're not allowed to leave a whole lot of the key things out.

"Parliament generally does rely on that. But in this case, it's come straight through from the election campaign and has marched into the coalition agreement without any of the normal checks, balance, review, or the involvement of any qualified translator," he said.

Walker claimed only about five percent of the words had been translated, sometimes only a single phrase.

'These principles are not in te Tiriti'

Another signatory, Melanie Nelson, urged Potaka to speak out.

"You know what te Tiriti says. You know these principles are not in te Tiriti. It's really important for him and all National Party members to be saying 'this is not what National stands for'.

"It should not be voted on in Parliament. It should not be entered into Parliament. If it is, it should be allowed for MPs to have a conscience vote, so we continue to have truth as a foundation of legislation," Nelson said.

While the details of the bill have not yet been revealed, its foundation is weak.

"It should go right back to the drawing board. Proper conversation, based on what the Treaty actually says, should be the basis."