Kelvin Davis believes the Treaty of Waitangi is "perfect" but has been needlessly complicated by various principles of the Treaty.
Although it is a personal view and not Government policy, it's an interesting admission by him because Davis is Minister of Māori Crown Relations in an era of big changes to the expression of the partnership principle.
"I've always thought we've made it very complex and it doesn't need to be," he said in an interview with the Herald.
Davis himself grew up deeply vested in the Treaty, growing up in Kawakawa not far from Waitangi, and with his tupuna Whetoi Pomare having signed it.
"It's the perfect document. It's just we happen to confuse and convolute it."
Asked if that confusion was because of various principles – as set out over time by the Waitangi Tribunal, courts and governments such as the principle of partnership, active protection, and redress – he says: "I think so."
"The Treaty doesn't change, the articles don't change, the words don't change but there are these other more recent constructs and a lot of them are through jurisprudence but it has created something different," he said.
He also believes the focus is put on the first and second articles (kawanatanga which allows the Crown to govern and tino rangatiratanga which protects Māori control of their lands and treasures) when, in his view, the third article (equal rights of citizenship) was the most important.
"If we had equity throughout Aotearoa, Māori would be achieving as well as everybody else and we wouldn't need to have this sense of victimhood hanging over us all the time."
He links the first two articles together as a means to achieve the third.
"Kawanatanga can do what governments do - make laws, collect taxes – but we need to be using those levers of government to enable rangatiratanga to occur so we can achieve equity.
"The equity for me is the promise of the Treaty," he said.
"Maybe that's just my interpretation but as someone who grew up 10 minutes down the road from where the Treaty was signed, my tupuna signed it and the Treaty grounds were our playground as kids, I'm vested in it."
As New Zealand today marks the death of the Queen with a public holiday, Davis said that for him, the big issue was not whether New Zealand became a republic or remained a constitutional monarchy but that the Treaty did not change.
"For me the Queen was a lovely woman but I don't have a lot in common with someone who lived on the other side of the world.
"If we go on as a monarchy, I want the Treaty enshrined in stone. If we become a republic, I want the Treaty enshrined in stone."
And what does "enshrined in stone" mean? "I just don't want it to be played with."
Davis is the first Minister of Māori Crown Relations. He is in charge of Te Arawhiti and two of its biggest functions.
The first is to help Government agencies become better Treaty partners to Māori in their ongoing work, and to make sure Government agencies are fulfilling any commitments made by the Crown in Treaty of Waitangi settlements.
He emphasises the distinction between Willie Jackson's Te Puni Kokiri which helps enhance the Māori side of the equation, and Te Arawhiti which is there to make the Crown a better partner.
The work with public sector agencies is both generic and specific. Generally, Te Arawhiti provides guidance to agencies through its "Māori Crown Relations Capability Framework" about the kind of engagement it should have with Māori depending on the circumstance.
Specifically, it works with individual agencies such as having worked with the Department of Conservation recently to try to iron out some difficulties in its co-governance arrangement with Tūhoe to run Te Urewera, the former national park.
He said Te Arawhiti was also involved in work that will eventually allow the three wananga (Maori tertiary institutions) to completely govern themselves – including approving any new ones.
He had asked Te Arawhiti to work "under the radar" so its work may not be well known to non-Māori but it had positive name recognition by Māori.
The push to create closer partnerships with Māori was identified in 2018 as one of the 12 key priorities of the Coalition Government.
Under a programme called whāinga amorangi, each chief executive of a Government agency has to establish goals on how they were going to be a better Treaty partner.
Additionally, in 2019 the Cabinet Office issued a new circular for all ministers and chief executives to apply whenever new policy is being developed, to ensure it is compliant with the Treaty and does not attract legal action alleging a breach.
Davis regularly cites a parable he once heard from a minister to illustrate the broad thinking behind Te Arawhiti.
The vicar had said there was a river running through Aotearoa and on one side was the Māori world and on the other side was the Pākehā world. What connected the worlds to each other was a bridge called Te Tiriti o Waitangi.
The crossings of that bridge had almost exclusively been by Māori crossing into the Pākehā world, learning the language, the customs, the behaviours.
His vision for Aotearoa was for people of both worlds to be able to cross freely, flicking in and out of languages, understanding and being comfortable with each other's cultures and ways of thinking and beliefs.
"That's the metaphor for Te Arawhiti because the word Te Arawhiti means a bridge."
Soon after he became the minister, he had addressed a hui of about 600 public servants and told the bridge story.
All public servants have to be attuned to the needs of Māori as Treaty partners.
"I said 'I don't care where you are on that bridge, so long as you are prepared to walk across it because if you are not prepared to walk across it, I question your place in the public service.'
"All public servants have to be attuned to the needs of Māori as Treaty partners."
Asked about whether the Government is taking non-Māori along with them on the approach for stronger and new partnerships, Davis does not see it as his focus.
"I don't know that the public really care that that stuff is going smoothly – and would we be selling? Good relationships? It is hard to really pin down what we would be telling the public, that the Government is working well with Māori?"
Importantly, Māori were on board and Te Arawhiti had good name recognition in Māori communities.
"I'm not so sure in non-Māori communities that people really know about it but then again, the benefits are going to Māori and the relationships are with Māori."
He said the post-settlement period was about "moving on together but it's in a Māori way."
When people said "we should all be New Zealanders," what they often meant was for Māori to be assimilated as Pākehā New Zealanders.
"Whereas Māori, we don't see ourselves as that. We want to be New Zealanders but in our uniquely Māori way."
Māori had tried to understand government systems but government agencies had not worked hard to understand Maori ways.
"It's challenging for the Government; it's difficult for many; it's getting people out of their comfort zone but I think it's only fair that after 182 years that people cross the bridge in the other direction and get to know a bit about the way we think, feel, act and behave as we do instead of having to continuously justify our Māori world view."