In my professional life, I teach. Recently we were required to attend a half-day Treaty of Waitangi training seminar. The Treaty of Waitangi is the agreement between Maori and the English Crown that established Government in New Zealand. Many of my colleagues come from outside New Zealand and do not understand why we are required to know this. NQQA is the New Zealand Qualifications Agency the government agency that ensures high quality in education providers.
The first reason why teachers here need to understand and to teach the Treaty of Waitangi is that as a New Zealand tertiary education provider NZQA requires us to teach the treaty; we are audited on this.
For our students and ourselves working and living in New Zealand understanding our history is a given. The Treaty and its legacy are central to our history. As I explain to my postgraduate students: if you work as a teacher in New Zealand, if you work in healthcare, in social work; in any government position, then Treaty knowledge is an absolute requirement. Treaty knowledge is also an absolute requirement when applying for jobs in corporate New Zealand.
In 1840 when the treaty was signed Maori were very much the dominant culture and force in New Zealand. Times were changing, hence the need for the Treaty, but Maori signed the Treaty expecting it would bind the British. Why would anyone expect Maori to sign an agreement where they agreed to loss of power and land? Clearly, Maori understood that they would maintain control over their treasures and destiny. That that agreement was broken is clear from the subsequent history.
That being the case, when the Crown and the European settlers became the more dominant force, as a consequence of: the influx of settlers, epidemic disease, and war; then systemic treaty breaking began. Maori never agreed to that. And they fought these breaches every step of the way.
Understand that the treaty was a document to ensure this takeover did not occur. The Crown broke their word. Ethically and practically redress must be made.
The Treaty of Waitangi Commission and the Government, both leading political parties and the majority of smaller political parties understand and support this conclusion. The Waitangi Commission investigates the specific claims and advises the Government. Successive Governments have then negotiated settlements. This process takes time as 150 years have passed and because each Iwi is a separate settlement. Settlements generally begin with an apology and continue on to make recompense in property and money. The amounts of both land and money that are offered are tiny compared to the losses that the Maori suffered. I think it helps to remember that the land returned is land that is owned by the government. Private land is not used, even though much of the best farmland in the North Island was confiscated by the government after the New Zealand wars. That is the land was taken from Maori.
I have heard people say come on, “It’s hundred fifty years ago shouldn’t Maori just get over it, get real”, or words to that effect. To Maori people that history is recent. One hundred fifty years is nothing to a people who all know their lineage to the original Waka that arrived here 900 years ago. There are cultures with different perceptions of time to European people. Maori are one of these. It strikes me too, that this argument favors the colonizers who broke their agreement with Maori, and that the 30 years we have been working through Treaty Settlements is a short time compared to the 150 years of injustice since the Treaty was signed.
For all these reasons, it just seems to me that respecting Maori and the Treaty is the right thing for us to do.