Myth one: we are all (happy) New Zealanders: trick or treaty
The Treaty of Waitangi2 (2012) is one of the founding documents that laid the basis for British colonial settlement. There has been debate over its interpretation and meaning since it was first signed in 1840 to the present, with no unanimous Maori agreement (Orange, 2004). It takes its name from the place in the Bay of Islands where the debate first started between the British Crown and the Maori chiefs. As the Treaty of Waitangi established rights, so too did it test its first case in the newly established law courts. R v Symonds (Dorsett & Godden, 1998) established Maori rights to traditional land under customary law in 1847 (just seven years after signing the Treaty). The case held that Maori Treaty rights are founded, and must be guaranteed. That case created a challenge and much ire among the settlers who were hungry for land. Interestingly enough, that same year the Education Ordinance, 1847, introduced by Governor Grey, created the second challenge (the first being the ongoing debates around the language of the Treaty/Tiriti texts) for Maori in education when it decreed that English was compulsory in every school that was part of the system. It stated that schools: To be established or supported by public funds under the provisions of this Ordinance, religious education, industrial training, and instruction in the English language shall form a necessary part of the system to be pursued therein (New Zealand Legislative Council Ordinances, 1841-1853).
British settlers became angrier at the thought of Maori having land rights, thus restricting their movements. They put pressure on the government and land companies to secure more land for British settlement. Within a short time New Zealand was at war: a war between the British Crown and settlers and Maori, known as the Land Wars. These came to a peak in 1858, with the formation of the Kingitanga, the Maori King Movement, a resistance movement. In 1859, Henry Sewell, writing in his diary, crudely stated the mounting colonial view:The settlers, outnumbering the Maoris and stronger in a greater degree than the proportion of numbers, would not suffer their progress to be checked by an inferior race. They would, if necessary, take the land; the
Maoris would resist and be crushed or exterminated (cited in Ballara, 1986, p. 60).
Joseph Somes of the New Zealand Company, who maintained that it was the “right” of the British Crown to the “waste lands” of New Zealand, vulgarly wrote of intended deception around the Treaty:Made with naked savages by a consul invested with no plenipotentiary powers, without ratification by the Crown, [so that it] could [not] be treated by lawyers as anything but a praiseworthy device for amusing and gratifying savages for the moment (cited in Ballara, 1986, p. 36).
Not only were Maori “savage,” Maori were seen as “naked savages,” a convenient concept that would invalidate any treaty process as naked savages are incapable of entering into treaties. In New Zealand the people categorization and treaty rules were made up hurriedly in response to British settler desire. Further, as argued by Ballara (1986), Maori requests to address injustices were seen by patronizing colonialists as symptomatic of Maori inequality based in their implicit belief in white supremacy:
To Europeans, a symptom of Maori inequality was what they liked to call the “privileges” enjoyed by the Maori people. In a debate in 1947 Sidney Holland ... pointed out that the Maori “enjoy many advantages; they enjoy special legislation; they enjoy special protection ... While these conditions obtain there cannot be equality of Maori with pakeha.” (Ballara, 1986, p. 114)
Here is the twist. The discourse is an illogical bringing together of Maori as naked savage, perhaps childlike, certainly inferior, strangely blended with a Maori as privileged discourse as Maori attempts to retain land, to resist subjugation, and prevent further thefts were distorted as “proof” that Maori were “not equal.” The thinking is “Maori are sub-humans who just want special privileges.” These ideas were not new or even unique to Aotearoa/NewZealand. Fine-tuned in the colonization of the Americas, these discourses are also in line with the terra nullius discourses used in Australia by the British colonialists to claim sovereignty on the grounds that Australia was land belonging to no one; it was an unoccupied (vacant) space. With the nullius discourse the indigenous Australians were invisibilized, made to be sub-human. Therefore they were not entitled to live on their lands. Wherever they lived, it was through a privilege bestowed on them by the colonizer because of their savage/sub-human nature. This is a common feature of colonization where, as Bevan-Smith (2012) argues, the savage/civilized binary, congenital to European settlerism, underwrites its ideology of superior as well as acting as its mythopoeia (process of creating myths) for political purpose.
The unpopular (to British settlers) court ruling in 1847 in Symonds’s case established Maori rights to traditional land under customary law, and combined with the deficit savage-type discourses created a context that led to the next well-known (among Maori communities) Treaty ruling of 1877 by Judge Prendergast. He found Aotearoa to be a territory inhabited only by “savages” and “primitive barbarians " and ruled that:Government must acquit itself ... of its obligation to respect native proprietary rights, and of necessity be the sole arbiter of its own justice ... [The Treaty] must be regarded as a simple nullity. No body politic existed capable of making cession of sovereignty ... [placing Maori] on the footing of foreigners ... Transactions with the natives for the cession of their title to the Crown are thus to be regarded as acts of State, and therefore are not examinable by any Court (Angelo, 2011, p. 156).
Between the Symonds’s case and Judge Prendergast’s ruling there has been a shift from Maori having rights in customary law to the nullification of Maori socio-political structures rendering Maori right-less. Here the nullius discourse takes form. Maori are positioned as “foreigners” and “aliens” allegedly incapable of treaty-making, just 37 years after the Treaty of Waitangi was signed. In a sharp twist, the guaranteed Treaty rights have shifted as the balance of power moved from Maori and their rangatiratanga rights to the settlers and their rights to settle. This rapidly accelerated colonization and rapidly impacted on Maori, now demo- graphically thinned out and suffering from the variety of introduced diseases and illness. The “no rights/privilege” thinking is still around 150 years later, as in the following mythopoeic discourse:
Quote from the Dominion Post, September 6, 2012 Letter: Taxpayers must withdraw funding
At least former prime minister Helen Clark and incumbent John Key have something in common: “no-one owns the water.” Now we have Crown-funded entities dictating that one very privileged group [Maori] does own the water—and everything else they [the Maori] consider is theirs. Not much of what is claimed existed in 1840. The Maori Council, Waitangi Tribunal and chief funder for the huge Treaty claim industry, the Crown Forest Rental Trust, aren’t elected at large.
They are vested interest groups hell bent on destroying the country’s unity with continued racist claims.
Many millions have been paid in Treaty settlements since 1920 and for what?
Nothing has changed for most Maori. Only the top 20 percent is doing well as they entrench themselves into positions of favour and privilege at everyone’s expense.
It’s time we abolished the Maori seats, as well as the council, the tribunal and the CFRT.
They should be like any other clubs, supporting themselves at their own expense.
Then we might just have time to get back on to the Kiwi track and become one nation of peoples with the same rights and aspirations for everyone and a safe and secure future for all. (The Dominion Post, September 6, 2012)
The argument that “Maori don’t have any rights” on the grounds that “not much existed in 1840” is not only illogical but fundamentally flawed. It is simply a fabrication to justify the “privilege” discourse and more, that Maori are “privileged racists.” Then the fantasy kicks in—that “they (Maori) threaten the future security of our (white) country” when they (Maori) challenge Government neoliberal policies of privatization of state-owned assets. The fundamental flaw—a lie—then sets in train the mythical discourses and also sets the scene for ongoing societal tensions. These tensions are manufactured around the discourse that we are “all New Zealanders”; one homogenous group who speak one (English) language and Maori (with guaranteed Treaty rights) are somehow obliterated. There is also the subliminal promotion of the idea in the title (and expounded upon in the “them” and “us” of the text) that Maori don’t pay taxes and are a drain on society at our (Pakeha) expense. The “them” and “us” of the discourse is necessary to keep the mechanics of racism operational. The following is the response of New Zealand Prime Minister John Key (Key, 2012) to Maori rights assertions in relation to the Treaty that demonstrate these ideas:
And I think if you take the debate all the way back—my own personal view of this situation is that if you go back to 1840 when we signed the Treaty, the Crown as one partner agreed to preserve what would effectively establish property rights around land, forestry, and fisheries. What we also I think then said, well look, let’s also make sure that all New Zealanders enjoy the same rights of being a New Zealander—the same capacity to access those rights but I think at that time we also—let’s together, in partnership, build a modern day New Zealand, and so if you accept that view point then I think you have to accept that elements like water, and wind and sun and air and fire and all these things, sea, along with natural resources like oil and gas, are there for the national interest of everyone. They are for the benefit of all new Zealanders, not one particular group over another. (TVNZ, September 2012)
The text is “the Treaty was made between the Crown for and on behalf of all New Zealanders” The subtext is “therefore all New Zealanders own everything and you (Maori) have no rights as long as you continue to be that—‘Maori’ ” Somehow, according to Key, you cannot be a New Zealander and a Maori because being a New Zealander means giving up your Maoritanga (Maori cultural identity) and ceding all rights. Therefore the Treaty doesn’t even concern you (Maori) because it is about all New Zealanders generally, not Maori specifically. Therein lies the Treaty twist—with one magic wave of the wand Maori have been totally invisibilized—such is the trickery of the treat-y.