The idea of rangatiratanga is that as Maori we are in charge of our land, our resources, and our aspirations.
Only 6 per cent of New Zealand remains as Maori land, with confiscations and land purchases of a dubious nature amounting to the gradual transfer of resources from Maori to British settlers.
This has been a one-way transfer of wealth. Entire regions, such as Taranaki and Waikato, were confiscated from Maori in the 1800s without compensation. That these two regions are among the highest value dairy producing regions in the world is an indication of the wealth that has been stripped out of Maori communities.
It cannot be disputed that our nation's wealth was built on the back of stolen land. The settlement money paid to Maori - some $2 billion over 20 years - is only a fraction of a per cent of the value of the loss suffered by Maori.
Rangatiratanga is not about carving out a set of "unique political rights" for Maori. It is about ensuring that our communities are healthy, well-educated, and can live a good life.
Prior to British settlement, rangatiratanga was all-encompassing. Rangatira were responsible for the health and wellbeing of their hapu, and had abundant resources to provide this. The loss of wealth has destroyed the ability of the hapu, or more commonly today the iwi, to provide for the health and wellbeing of its members. Large populations and small asset bases mean that iwi have to be more creative, and more selective in how they assist.
Rangatiratanga is a practice. It is about Maori living according to our tikanga, and about striving wherever possible to ensure that the homes, land, and resources guaranteed to us under Te Tiriti o Waitangi are protected for the use and enjoyment of future generations.
My main focus is on assisting iwi and Maori-owned land trusts to grow their economic wealth to continue to pursue rangatiratanga through development. Progress, while slow, has occurred over the past 20 years and the Maori economy continues to grow.
Iwi, driven by historical settlement packages, are delivering returns to their members through the provision of grants to marae, hapu, and for educational purposes. The larger Maori land trusts are also becoming more innovative in their business development and the successful Miraka milk processing venture is a sign of things to come.
This increase in economic wealth provides Maori communities with opportunities that were previously unavailable. With increased economic wealth comes the opportunity to develop the skills and wealth of Maori, to improve the health and wellbeing of Maori, and the ability to revitalise traditional cultural and customary practices. Economic wealth provides Maori communities with the opportunity to develop their community in accordance with their own vision, not a vision of Maori communities imposed by the Government.
Our aspirations are no different to anyone else's. We want good schools, good homes, good health and good jobs. We do not seek special rights to the detriment of Pakeha New Zealand. We ask for the recognition of the rights that were guaranteed to us under Te Tiriti o Waitangi.
Rights such as the right to have a say in how our communities are governed and how the resources and sites sacred to us are managed.
The recognition of these rights through, for example, the Maori electorates, Maori wards on local government bodies and co-government arrangements established to manage a growing number of national parks and waterways, is precisely what Te Tiriti o Waitangi envisioned - a true partnership between Maori and Pakeha.
Joshua Hitchcock is a business consultant and Maori issues commentator. He blogs at www.katonuitanga.com.