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  • Wed, 5, Feb, 2020 - 5:00:AM

What would it look like if we actually honoured te Tiriti?

Waka at Waitangi / Dirk Pons / Wikimedia Commons

Thirty years ago the Māori flag was launched at Hikoi ki Waitangi 1990.

1990 was also the year when a wet t-shirt was lobbed at Queen Elizabeth II during her visit to Waitangi, when Right Reverend Whakahuihui Vercoe called out the Crown’s breaches of Te Tiriti, and protestors overpowered the official speeches with calls to ‘Honour the Treaty!’

Thirty years on, I — a non-Māori person — am looking to (and longing for) the future that protestors, past and present, fought for. Specifically the more prosperous future that Aotearoa New Zealand could see if we answered that thirty-year-old (but really, much older) call to action.

What would it look like if we actually honoured all the Principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi?

That’s one of the questions I posed to three wāhine, on the condition that there are no conditions — because radical change is exactly what our current cultural climate needs. 

Firstly, the Crown would recognise the Tino Rangatiratanga (self-determination) of Māori.

Five years before Te Tiriti was signed, He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tireni (Aotearoa’s Declaration of Independence) was signed by a number of Māori chiefs. The document, recognised by France, Britain and the U.S., asserted the sovereignty of Māori over New Zealand and established a legal precedent for the Tino Rangatiratanga of Māori.

Subsequently Te Tiriti o Waitangi, an agreement between two sovereign parties, is a covenant for non-Māori to enter lawfully into New Zealand; it is what gives non-Māori a place on this whenua. To subvert Tino Rangatiratanga — as the Crown has done with the TPPA, Ihumātao and countless other disputes — is to violate the law upon which our country was founded.

In the idyllic future I envisage, our government would not just consult with iwi before signing policies that impact upon waterways, fisheries, land, flora and fauna, but co-design with Māori approaches to protect these precious taonga; understanding that we have a duty of care to the environment that cares for us (and thus, can never truly own, buy or sell it).

Non-Māori would also be more open-minded and willing to learn the tenets of Māoritanga. The way Māori move through professional, political and personal spaces is at times a contrast to Pākehā customs — but equally as valid.

Barbara Ngawati-Salaivao (Ngāpuhi), deputy principal of Manurewa High School, tells me, “I’m very intuitive when it comes to decision-making. In a Western paradigm you wouldn’t bring all that emotion into your workplace because you’re separating that part of you.”

“I’m encouraging others to be more intuitive and to bring their feelings and let that vulnerability sit… because that’s exactly what we need to see renaissance.”

In years to come (in our ideal Aotearoa) especially for those who grow up in the liminal space between two or more cultures, all forms of Māori identity would be affirmed and co-exist.

Jennifer Lewis (Ngāpuhi and Ngāti Whātua), who sits on the Manurewa Youth Council, reflects, “I have a Pākehā mother and I’m white-passing. It’s been a huge struggle for me to connect these identities because I never really belonged in either space.”

“I think a lot of mixed Māori New Zealanders will feel challenged by this,” Ngawati-Salaivao says. “I am a coloniser through my whakapapa and I am colonised through, well, my whakapapa. It’s been about accepting who I am, as I am, and not wanting to be anything else.”

Colonial structures would also be updated, blown up, and/or replaced. Initiatives working to dismantle New Zealand’s colonialist systems have already begun in earnest, and in a utopian future, this mahi would be continued and completed. 

With the announcement that New Zealand history will be compulsory in schools by 2022, I am feeling cautiously optimistic that at least a basic understanding of Te Ao Māori will become widespread and common.

The fact that some New Zealanders don’t understand basic tikanga and kawa, or know about the New Zealand wars – let alone understand why Māori continue to experience higher rates of mental illness, unemployment, poverty and incarceration — is reason enough to insist on a compulsory New Zealand history curriculum in New Zealand schools.

“I had a friend visit Aotearoa for the first time who said “I heard every Māori person gets the benefit from the government.” I was speechless at first, and then I was very, very uncomfortable,” Nelly Wilson (Ngāti Hauā, Ngāpuhi and Ngāti Tūwharetoa) tells me.

Another change we’d see in our ‘ideal New Zealand’ is “that we would be a bilingual nation,” Ngawati-Salaivao says. “And a true bilingual nation. We could be sitting here speaking in Te Reo Māori.”

More conservative individuals who benefit from our current eurocentric systems will definitely flag this as overkill. Te Reo is already one of our national languages. And we have Māori language month, right?

Except, promoting one month out of twelve when people try to say “kia ora” and “ka kite” sets the bar so low you’d walk into it were you not careful. Considering we literally tried to beat Te Reo Māori to death not so long ago, mandating the teaching of Te Reo to all children is the least New Zealand can do.

“My hope for the future of Aoteroa is that Te Reo is kept going,” Wilson agrees. 

There are principles and relationships that exist innately in Te Ao Maori and Te Reo is the bridge that allows all of us — non-Māori included — to access what it can teach us, emotionally, spiritually and socially.

“It’s so important for passing knowledge from our tīpuna to our young ones,” Lewis said. “For knowing who you are and being proud of it.”

Among the things we can learn from Te Ao Māori are Manaakitanga (hospitality), Kaitiakitanga (guardianship) and Kotahitanga (togetherness). These values are increasingly more relevant to New Zealand as a popular tourism and immigration destination, as the climate crisis escalates and as we endeavour to do better for future generations.

A nation whose community knows no borders, that protects our natural resources and respects each other’s human rights. That is rooted in Te Ao Māori. That respects not only te Tiriti, but also he Whakaputanga.

This, at the end of the arduous road we must traverse, could be what’s waiting for us.


  • Treaty of Waitangi /
  • Te Tiriti O Waitangi /
  • Waitangi Day /
  • Te Ao Maori /
  • Tino Rangatiratanga /
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