Ngati Whatua of Orakei did Auckland proud yesterday. Their invitation to the Prime Minister was well-timed, their welcome to a large party of visitors at Orakei Marae was warm and comfortable and the beauty of the view from Bastion Pt in the sunshine yesterday was almost as sublime as the surrounds of Waitangi. Bill English used the occasion to celebrate what most iwi have done with the Treaty settlements and the part they are playing in New Zealand's social and economic development. Maori Party president Tukoroirangi Morgan of Tainui spoke of the wealth in New Zealand's diversity today.
English paid tribute to the courage of Maori leaders who have made the settlements. He recalled one elder who said he had not slept the night before signing. Responsibility to his ancestors and descendants haunted the step he was about to take. The rest of New Zealand probably does not appreciate these dilemmas and treat the settlements as a straightforward benefit to be accepted on both sides.
There has been also a tendency to doubt the settlements will satisfy more than one generation and suppose the issues will be re-opened sometime in the future. But the investments iwi trusts are making in their regions and developments at Orakei, some visible, some still in the planning, gives confidence that this Maori generation has turned a corner and New Zealand will not look back.
The same be said for the country as a whole. The Prime Minister alluded to how well the country is doing economically by comparison to other countries at present but did not say this alone was the reason so many want to live here now. The way we deal with social problems also played a part. We are pragmatic and adaptable. English was an early supporter in the Cabinet of the Maori Party's whanau ora project and still believes strongly in it. "Every family has a spark in it somewhere," he said yesterday. Solutions were best found within the whanau not the Ministry of Social Development.
Too many cases of child abuse come to public attention for there to be widespread confidence in whanau ora and the Government is removing a preference for whanau placements in fostering arrangements. But iwi leaders and the Maori Party are pressing strongly for whanau placements to remain and it an argument they will probably win. The Government's regular meetings with the iwi leaders' forum were described by English yesterday as "not just a hui where we listen to each other" but a structured and demanding process for decisions.
It is just a pity the public sees none of these discussions, nor does it see the formal but genuine expressions of good will exchanged in powhiri at marae on Waitangi Day. The age of large-scale protests over the Treaty have long gone but it takes only one or two malcontents to destroy the dignity a national day deserves. Thankfully, there was no sign of such people at Orakei yesterday, nor at Hoani Waititi Marae where leaders of both main parties were welcomed later in the day. New Zealand has much to celebrate and yesterday Auckland did it well.