Gareth Morgan wasn’t the only New Zealander at Waitangi this week with strong feelings about the Treaty. David Fisher talked to several key Maori and Pakeha figures about the way ahead

The Gareth Morgan roadshow hit Waitangi, and the Putaruru-born Welsh-descended philanthropist was ready to korero.

He was welcomed, he was feted.

Kaumatua steered him through marae protocol, the New Zealand Maori Council gave him space to speak and mothers brought their children to listen. In places, he barely moved a few steps before his hand was clasped and that striking beak of a nose was pulled into a hongi. From wharenui to cocktail party, tent to Treaty grounds, Morgan was welcomed.

The question in the book title - Are We There Yet? - is answered in speeches by Morgan. The answer, as he sees it, is "no". "We get there when a Pakeha child can walk on to a marae and feel totally comfortable."

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To get there, much must happen. Morgan has spoken of changing New Zealand's name to Aotearoa, of making te reo compulsory in schools and introducing a half-Maori Upper House in which legislation will be tested.

"It's like I've squeezed a boil," he says. "They're saying, 'Thank God there's a Pakeha who can talk the way we have thought forever'."

But Morgan is not the only person asking "are we there yet?"

Of those with a public profile, former National Party (and then Act) leader Don Brash appears the only person ready to consign the Treaty to history once historical claims are resolved.

"There's no suggestion in the document this is an ongoing 'relationship'," he told the Weekend Herald.

He is, at the very least, out of step with the current National Party. Prime Minister John Key spoke of the Treaty as a living document. Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson is already charting a future beyond the settlements.

As minister, Finlayson has overseen more settlements than any other in the role. As Government, the National Party has shifted resources to speed the way.

As a nation, we're almost at the point where historical grievances have been resolved. There have been 72 deeds of settlement signed, covering 70 per cent of New Zealand's land mass. Of those, 32 settlements were reached in the past three years and 46 in the past six years. The Government aims to have almost all completed by 2017, acknowledging there are some that will not be settled.

Finlayson says: "These deeds of settlement are not the end, they are the end of the beginning."

The settlements had redefined the relationship with Maori.

"You can see that when iwi visit you ... they're out of grievance mode. They're not bound down by the past - they're future-focused. You can see the mindset has changed."

Tainui and Ngai Tahu had become economic powerhouses as a result of the settlements. "You're talking large sums of money pumped into the regional economy. That's why we're so keen to have a settlement with Nga Puhi. You combine that with land reform and you're starting to talk turkey."

He says iwi groups largely appointed smart people who made conservative investment decisions. In the cases where money was lost, he says: "People have the right to make mistakes."

Part of his work, as the settlement numbers grew, was to protect the agreements from mistakes in the future. He says he has set up a Post-Settlements Commitment Unit to collect in one place the promises made by the Crown as part of the settlements.

"I worry what will happen 10-15 years from now. There may be a Ministry of Culture and Heritage now [but] in 15 years' time it may be part of some other ministry or have a completely different name. The obligations are not on the ministry, they are on the Crown."

Good will is not enough - "it has to be institutionalised".

In line with that, Finlayson has briefed Labour's David Parker and - he says - opened the door for him to access officials. "Ministers come and go but it is a Crown obligation that exists forever."

He says it is likely some grievances will not be resolved. "There will be some that will not be resolved because the iwi concerned don't want resolution, or their leaders don't. It's not for me to press gang people into settlement because that's the antithesis of what a settlement should be. It has to be consensual."

The structures that support reconciliation - including the Waitangi Tribunal - will also shift. Finlayson says the tribunal will continue handling contemporary claims. "If they play their cards right and don't try and act as some kind of imperial senate, they could do a very good job in the future."

Any frustration with the Tribunal from Finlayson appears to lie with its treatment of the Crown.

"The Tribunal has to recognise that actually, governments do act in good faith ... governments actually do their best and have learned a thing or two along the road. It's not the Crown bashing up Maori all the time which is sometimes the perception one gets from some tribunal reports.

"In other words - the Crown is in court, the Crown is always wrong."

He says there isn't a dollar figure on expectation on contemporary claims before the tribunal, because he considers them to be less about money and more about the way we live. An example is the use of the haka.

Another phase with resolution of historical grievances is the so-called "ratchet clauses", which allow early agreements with iwi including Ngai Tahu to be pulled up to meet settlements that come later. Negotiations are under way and dollar figures are yet to be discussed. "I don't get upset about it. I just say follow the contract and you can't go wrong."

If only someone had uttered those words 175 years ago.

A full house at the Treaty Grounds' dawn service on Waitangi Day. Photo / Jason Oxenham
A full house at the Treaty Grounds' dawn service on Waitangi Day. Photo / Jason Oxenham

There are kids doing bombs off the Waitangi Bridge just a few metres along from the sign that reads: "No jumping from bridge."

The breeze is constant and warm, carrying a mix of salt air, fried onions and rain burning off in the hot sun. The limousines that dropped off the huge cohort of National Party ministers and MPs purr past polite protesters.

The voice of NZ Maori Council co-chair Maanu Paul floats from Ti Tii Marae, speaking of "changing from grievance mode to one of correcting social issues". There are the "negative statistics we don't like" that have "consigned Maori to be the most imprisoned people in this country".

The vocal few break off shouting to greet whanau, Maori wardens, kaumatua and kuia who pass by, switching from outraged protest to cheerful embrace and back again in seconds.

There is no doubting the sincerity of the protest but, loud as they are, they aren't drowning out the feel-good buzz.

Maori Affairs Minister Te Ururoa Flavell says debate around the Treaty shouldn't be linked to the settlements because "it's just one part of it".

Instead, the Treaty should be at the heart of how we all live.

"As long as people recognise what the Treaty says, we will go a long way."

Understanding the Treaty is to understand the cost to Maori of not recognising it earlier.

In Flavell's view, along with fisheries, forestry and land you can also consider social issues like the 51 per cent Maori prison population to be Treaty issues. "They all go hand-in-hand, because one is a consequence of another."

And yet, as much as it is the flow-on effect of not honouring the Treaty, it is not recognised as such. "My experience is that debate is never about a Treaty issue. It's taken as social deprivation. The Treaty never comes into the debate. We don't think about it like that."

The phrase "we are all New Zealanders" emerges when the issue is raised, he says.

"We have a schizophrenic relationship with the Treaty. We can flick into it when we want to and flick out when it's not mentioned."

He says the disconnect between the Maori and non-Maori worlds is largely a lack of experience and knowledge.

But, he says, consider Hinewehi Mohi, who sang the national anthem in Maori during a Rugby World Cup game at Twickenham in 1999. "There was a huge uproar. Here we are 15 years on and most New Zealanders can sing the national anthem in Maori and feel proud about it."

This gives him hope - though beyond the rugby pitch, it's not so easy.

"There are 120 Members of Parliament and not a lot of them have been on a marae. Not just at Waitangi, but actually gone and lived and sat around with people.

"I wonder how many of the locals have been on a marae and listened or been to a tangi. How many people, with this huge wealth in Kerikeri, have been on to a marae? That's the sort of stuff we're talking about - getting an understanding of Maori communities. A lot of Pakeha New Zealanders have never had a chance to do that, which is a shame. A lot of it is sitting on our back doorstep."

It was in this vein he took Prime Minister John Key to Murupara in the Bay of Plenty to see how the low income, predominantly Maori community lived. This government, he says, is one that listens. Getting the public to follow is a different story.

"Things move politically. The polls tell you what's hot and what's not. You don't upset those voters."

In the absence of understanding is struggle. "Everything has come about on the back of struggle. But that is meaningless because New Zealanders have not been taught about it, they don't understand it, they don't get it and they may not even want to hear it."

"One mayor in New Plymouth is asking for one position on a 14-person panel," he says of the attempt to create a Maori ward in the council area. "We talk about injustice back then. We can't even address it now. We just keep piling it on top of each other."

And he points to a private member's bill from the party saying MPs could choose to pledge allegiance to the Treaty of Waitangi when being sworn into Parliament. It was voted down.

"It's all right to go to the Queen, it's all right to go to God, but not to the Treaty of Waitangi. That's crazy!

"The farmers in Taranaki, their farms came off the back of the soldiers who marched into Parihaka. It might be human nature to want to keep the land, but at least recognise the history. Even when you do negotiate, you're talking about 2 per cent of real value."

Asked how he feels about that value, Flavell searches for the right words, then becomes over-polite because he can't use the words he wants in a family newspaper.

"Most New Zealanders don't know that [the settlements are 2 per cent of value] so they react [with] 'Maori are getting everything, they're going to take your foreshore and seabed.' Hold on and step back a bit. Maori have actually been very generous to this nation."

Maori Affairs Minister Te Ururoa Flavell says the Treaty should be at the heart of how we all live. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Maori Affairs Minister Te Ururoa Flavell says the Treaty should be at the heart of how we all live. Photo / Jason Oxenham

As iwi move to deal with the benefits of settlement - often spoken of as being worth about 2c in the dollar - other bodies inextricably bound to the process are also preparing for change.

The Waitangi Tribunal has set 2020 as the year it will complete hearings into historical grievances, which are not necessarily linked to settlements.

Its Statement of Intent for operation through to 2025 talks to shifting focus to contemporary claims that deal with less tangible issues than the fisheries, forestry and land that have consumed much of the last 30 years.

Similar steps are being taken at the Office of Treaty Settlements. It is currently working out how to shift its focus (along with expertise and staff) from settlements on historical issues to working on applications for recognition of customary rights in coastal and marine areas.

It seems there's a new world coming.

The settlements of fisheries, forestry and land allow the country to reset the calendar to 1840, in many ways, to focus on the relationship the Treaty created.

The challenges to come are huge, says Shane Jones, former Labour minister, Northland leader and newly appointed Ambassador for Pacific Economic Development.

"If New Zealand is developing to a multicultural nation, what does that mean for the bicultural narrative? Tribes to the north still cling to the bicultural story. It's hard to see how that's sustainable."

That could be seen clearly when NZ First leader Winston Peters spoke to a tent full of people on Thursday afternoon. A lot of Maori nodded agreement with concerns about what Peters considers unchecked immigration.

Jones asks what it will take to bring that multicultural society along, "so that New Zealanders don't see the Treaty as a Maori thing with the Government. That's the journey we need to navigate".

AUT historian Professor Paul Moon says the Treaty has always been "viewed in the rear vision mirror", that the "next phase is going to be forward-looking".

The process until now has affected few beyond those directly involved in it. The next?

"It's likely to affect everyone."

An example is the shared management process emerging - the Uruwera National Park and Auckland volcanic cones.

It's not just a living document, but one which has been "elastic in its interpretation" over the past 30-40 years. "You could argue it's not a treaty anymore," he says, given a "treaty" is between nation states. Now, he says, the Waitangi document is being used to mediate areas well beyond the cares of nations.

Questions around social issues show the "malleability" of the Treaty.

"It can be shaped to any view you have."

The end of the historic settlements will see a "new generation of claims emerging. It's potentially something that will never end".

Morgan has spoken of changing NZ's name to Aotearoa, making te reo compulsory in schools and introducing a half-Maori Upper House in which legislation will be tested. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Morgan has spoken of changing NZ's name to Aotearoa, making te reo compulsory in schools and introducing a half-Maori Upper House in which legislation will be tested. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Morgan has been running from pillar to post at Waitangi. His dander was up - it was five years in the making, this project, and he reckons he will have spent about $600,000 by the end of the year.

It's a figure that will kill the cynics' grumble that he's only trying to sell his book. There's no money to be made here.

And there are other projects, too. Climate change cost a packet, and there's always the cat population to be exterminated.

The Waitangi welcome was no surprise. "The real issue here is Pakeha have to embrace the process, getting other people talking about this issue."

Asked if this is his life's work, he pauses, then says: "Don't worry. I haven't forgotten cats. It's coming back."