This Friday is our national holiday, Waitangi Day. It commemorates the signing of a treaty between the British Crown (Queen Victoria) and Maori chiefs that acknowledges and promises to ensure a partnership between Maori and British settlers. Unfortunately two Treaties were written, one in English, one in Maori that were meant to say the same thing but in two key points are very different. There are only three points to each.
In the English version the first has Maori ceding their sovereignty to the Queen and giving up their authority. The Maori version acknowledges the Queen as sovereign over her people and accepts her as a chief among them. The second point in both versions guarantees Maori ownership, possession and authority over their lands and “treasures”, taonga, which are tangible and intangible. The English version asks that Maori offer land first to the Crown if they want to sell while the Maori version allows sales to happen at the best price.
The third point is the same in both: that Maori are guaranteed equal rights and protection under the law. This was to ensure that British wrong-doers could be charged if they broke the law against Maori rather than only against other settlers.
I was pretty shocked when I moved here to find a lot of ambivalence on both sides about the Treaty. Most surprising was how many people haven’t even read it/them and so don’t even know what the disagreements are about. Racism is a fluid issue. Questions of rights, the meaning of bi-culturalism, keeping culture alive, managing resources and simply finding points of commonality can be uncomfortable at best and offensive at worst.
In the 19 years that I’ve lived here I am glad that the current generation has grown up with Maori culture as part of the norm of the school curriculum and all things to do with government. While there’s still a gap in actual knowledge of the Treaty and its history, there is a clear desire to see ourselves as one country represented primarily through two unique cultures. As New Zealand becomes more and more multi-cultural this will be a critical point of identity as we adapt to further changes.
I’m looking forward to attending the day’s celebrations. And I know I won’t be alone in this excitement.