Waitangi Tribunal opened racial faultline, widening gap between haves and have-nots, writes Mike Butler.

Gareth Morgan has demonstrated a willingness to offer solutions to numerous problems confronting New Zealand. However, his current work on the Treaty of Waitangi suggests he is a devotee of the make-it-up-as-you-go-along biculturalism that is the defining characteristic of New Zealand's Treaty of Waitangi gravy train.

Earlier this month the Herald published a series by Dr Morgan promoting his latest book Are we there yet? The future of the Treaty of Waitangi.

His conclusion that the treaty process is a success because the "treaty is now taken to mean whatever Maori leaders and the Crown, as the public's representatives, agree it means" ignores the elephant in the room by way of a racial faultline that came into existence with the creation of the Waitangi Tribunal in 1975.

This faultline has widened the gap of haves and have-nots both within Maoridom, and between Maoridom and other New Zealanders with the progress of successive "full and final settlements".

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The total settlement bill to March last year was $2.3 billion. The newly rich tribal corporations pay little or no tax and two entities, Waikato-Tainui and Ngai Tahu, are entitled to repeated top-ups as a percentage of the increasing grand total.

Dr Morgan's assertion that making it up as they (Crown and claimants) went along was necessary because "the original documents aren't very useful" suggests he may not have looked closely at the texts of either te Tiriti o Waitangi or the so-called official English version - or the Busby February 4 final English draft of the treaty known as the Littlewood treaty.

Because the treaty was drafted in English and translated into Maori, the meaning and intent is clear in the source document, the original English. That source document is most likely the Busby February 4 draft that has only four words which differ from te Tiriti o Waitangi, one of which is the date.

Dr Morgan asks: "How do we help Maoridom realise the all-important aspirations encompassed in rangatiratanga (used in Article 2, te reo version) in modern day Aotearoa New Zealand?"

Had he looked at the English source draft to see the word "rangatiratanga" translated in Article 2, he would have seen that it translated to "possession", as in "the Queen of England confirms and guarantees to the chiefs and the tribes and to all the people of New Zealand, the possession of their lands, dwellings and all their property".

Dr Morgan is also wrong to buy into land-loss rhetoric when he writes: "Justice and reparations have been a long time coming and, as generous as they might look to non-Maori, they're just cents in the dollar for what Maori lost in terms of property."

He does not mention that landowner Maori sold their land to buyers in hundreds of transactions painstakingly recorded in Turton's deeds, which are posted on the New Zealand Electronic Text Centre of the Victoria University of Wellington's website.

New Zealand has 26.8 million hectares of land. History records that 1.2 million hectares were confiscated during the 1860s wars.

Based on the approximately 1.47 million hectares of Maori-owned land (including customary land) and ignoring the confiscated land subsequently returned (sometimes soon after the confiscation), Maori land owners actually sold at least 24.13 million hectares.

The staggeringly foolish policy by the fourth Labour government to allow claims based on grievances back to 1840 invited claimants to get cash-for-grievance top-ups on 19th century sale-and-purchase agreements.

Once "rangatiratanga" is understood to translate as "possession", Dr Morgan's assertion about the "all-important aspirations encompassed in rangatiratanga" is reduced to the nonsensical concept of aspirations to asserting possession over property already sold.

And if "rangatiratanga" is taken to mean "self-determination", the "rangatiratanga" aspiration appears to describe either the state of self-reliance that every citizen who works for a living already has or Maori separatism. If the latter is the case, is Dr Morgan effectively supporting Maori separatism?

Dr Morgan needs to present a coherent argument to support his contention that "because the chiefs' signatures were on the te reo version, it's certainly possible they didn't cede sovereignty then".

Eyewitness reports of the Waitangi meeting on February 5, 1840 and records of what some chiefs said in opposition to the proposed treaty clearly show that they fully understood the ceding of sovereignty.

Article 1 clearly states "the chiefs of the Confederation of the United Tribes and the other chiefs who have not joined the confederation, cede to the Queen of England for ever the entire Sovereignty of their country".

Mike Butler is a Hastings journalist who wrote 'The First Colonist' and 'Tribes Treaty Money Power' and comments at the New Zealand Centre for Political Research.