Speaker by Various Artists

Treaty Obligations and the New Zealand Citizen

by Che Tibby

When I was at the University of Auckland I wrote a Masters dissertation on the Treaty negotiations between the Crown and Tainui and went into it with a healthy degree of scepticism. Despite being suspicious that it was yet another effort by 'the man' to rip off some disaffected locals I was surprised to find that Doug Graham and his delegated team were actually trying to make progress against the kinds of injustices being increasingly uncovered by the Waitangi Tribunal.

Sure, whenever you get a bunch of well-meaning bureaucrats around a table together you're always going to get some pompous do-gooders trying to run the show, but at least there was actually some traction made and systems were laid in place to solve the social time bomb that was Maori grievance.

Having put that Masters to good use and gone to work as a dispatcher for Auckland Co-op taxis, I eventually escaped and made it to Melbourne uni. Now I'm in the final throes of building on that dissertation with a comparative study of Australian Aboriginal-'Ocker' interaction. It's harrowing stuff.

I've been following the debates ever since Brash 'that' speech and it's been interesting to see that all too often people supposedly 'in the know' don't seem to have any idea what in hell they're talking about. Maybe it's a proximity thing, from over here the conservative arguments can seem pretty petty.

So, I was reading Russell Brown's recent post where he asked for contributions about Treaty Obligations (Knowing what we believe, May 11, 2004 12:09) and thought I'd send him a wee opinion piece. Much to my surprise he accepted! It's a little like being asked to speak on Holmes or something. But without the golliwog. And, like a Holmes show there's always a few key points that the mass-media debaters seem to miss or overlook.

The most important thing is that the Treaty has always been a reference point for whatever opinion the contemporary commentator, whoever they are, wants to present. Conservatives will usually talk of the Treaty in reference to Hobson and state, "we're all New Zealanders". Liberals, or what conservatives these days like to call "the left", will usually talk of the Treaty as a means to justify minority rights for Maori. Consequently, the Treaty tends to end up meaning whatever the hell you want it to, which is a very tricky thing.

I've noticed during that there are good reasons for making a utility out of the Treaty though, and the reasons are very, very telling about the kind of future New Zealand these people see themselves living in. Essentially, it all boils down to a much maligned and misunderstood ideology called nationalism.

Nationalism is the idea that you can influence or direct the cultural and ethnic composition of a states citizenry, and is set in train by a process called nation-building. What nationalism is not all about is ethnic cleansing or fascism, they're both called ethnic chauvinism, which is another kettle of fish altogether.

What you need to remember there is that nation-building is all about influencing the cultural 'feel' of a states citizens, because that leads us to my next point.

When Phillip Temple refers to the Treaty and us all being New Zealand citizens from the outset he's missing the very important fact that in 1840 there were no British citizens. There were subjects. Democracy only became a reality as franchise was opened to working class men, and subsequently women, in the late nineteen and early twentieth century. He's also missing the important fact that being a citizen doesn't mean you're actually part of a national society Saying "I'm a kee-wee" in an American accent is guaranteed to get a few smirks.

In plain English what the Treaty offered Maori was inclusion as subjects of the Crown, with a guarantee of equality to other subjects (Article Three). When British subjects resident in New Zealand eventually became 'real' citizens Maori were brought along by default. There's a good book on the topic in relation to Australia by Alastair Davidson called "From Subject to Citizen", and is part of a growing literature on the matter. The inference you can draw from this is that Maori have the social obligations of all other New Zealanders.

I agree then with Phillip that Maori have obligations to the government and the country as New Zealand citizens. But no one with any credibility would argue they don't. The fact that something like the hikoi takes Maori demands to Parliament shows that they're politically engaged with the state.

What further reinforces my point is that this customary rights debate is at its core a resource issue, not a political one. But, as a resource issue it is being determined via political processes (good one Helen...), and this is were the complication starts.

I'm going to sidestep this issue of resources being distributed by political means, and return to that nation-building blurb above in favour of a point Russell might like.
How many people immigrate to New Zealand to become Maori? This sounds facetious but it's a very serious point. The answer is no one. People immigrate to New Zealand to become New Zealanders. Being Maori and being a New Zealander are two very different things, and it is possible to be both.

The best way to explain this is to say that all Maori are New Zealanders, but not all New Zealanders are Maori. Much of the conservative talk about us all being New Zealanders tends to overlook this. Being a 'New Zealander' includes Maori but this is not the same as 'New Zealander' meaning actually being Maori. And this is why knee-jerk conservative arguments about us all being New Zealanders will never really hold water.

The identity 'Maori will always be something that has to be held onto on the face of pressures for conformity to majority ideas about what being a New Zealander is all about. Maori commentators and representatives know this, and you can't but get the feeling that conservatives either don't, or choose not to.

Part of the problem is that conservatives tend to utilise an outdated idea of what nation-building is, an idea that is more at home in the realities of New Zealand 1864 than 2004. What such an idea usually says is that you can only have one identity associated with a state or government. Hence nation-state. But modern realities mean that this type of idea is obsolete and is currently open to question in countries worldwide.

At the most practical level what nation-building for New Zealand means is that governments constantly work to make the national society more cohesive, it has to be. It provides means like education that turn people into New Zealanders, be they immigrants or the children of citizens (babies are not automatically ethnically New Zealanders, they become one as they grow up). From these little systems you get generation after generation of New Zealanders.

And this begs the question, where does Maori identity come from? And, if you have to ask this then you might find that you're thinking like a British subject, and not a New Zealand citizen.

This is why there is distinct ways of governance in New Zealand. We only need one government, but there has to be different ways to govern as you get closer and closer to the people you're representing. In return for loyalty to the one New Zealand government (Article One of the Treaty), Maori have been increasingly granted autonomy over things Maori since the 1980s. And believe me this is no small matter, there are a great many minority groups world-wide who do not have the same privilege, Australian Aboriginal people included.

Maori identity has to be represented somewhere to stop it being overwhelmed. The mutual obligations of the numerous Maori governance groups in New Zealand are therefore both to the people or communities they represent, and to the wider society to represent them fairly and accurately.

This is because the only way to keep a vibrant Maori society, which has always been distinct from mainstream society, is to see it engaged with the majority as both New Zealand citizens and as Maori. A situation in which there is no contradiction of loyalty. And, if you don't think that Maori society has been distinct, you're going to want to read some Michael King or James Belich. Or move out of Gore.

As a final note, this customary title thing is an economic issue, but has politicised by representatives trying to secure resources for the groups they themselves are obliged to represent. A behaviour demonstrated by both Maori and mainstream alike.

Without the ability to argue for and secure these types of resources as Maori and for Maori, the minority will be faced with absorption into the mainstream, a long-standing and unnecessary dream of conservatives.