Anyone visiting a marae in Northland over the past few weeks would have been struck by the degree of anger that is evident at various hui being held. The reason for the anger is simple. The Crown is anxious to impose a Treaty settlement on Ngapuhi, and has discovered that when the iwi doesn't like something, it pushes back.

The Treaty Negotiations Minister, Andrew Little, has attempted to secure a mandate from Ngapuhi for what will be the country's last and biggest Treaty settlement. Because the stakes are so high, the Government has gone to extreme lengths, including even getting hapu to vote on who their leaders should be. If the minister had spent even a few hours with any Ngapuhi hapu, he would realise that we know already who our leaders are, and don't need officials to run popularity contests to tell us.

Predictably, the signs are now clear: Ngapuhi will reject the Crown's offer to establish a mandate, and the whole process will go back to the drawing board. Where does this leave us? At times like this, we look to the past for instruction and guidance.


As it happens, a letter has surfaced which has remarkable parallels with the current situation we are in as an iwi, and which offers us exactly the sort of guidance we need.

The message that emerged from that piece of correspondence was simple: above all, we have to act with integrity.

The letter was written by my ancestor, Hone Heke, who is known to most people as the chief who cut down the flagpole in Russell in the mid-1840s. However, this document reveals another side to Heke that has been largely concealed but that has enormous implications for how Ngapuhi should approach current dealings with the Crown.

In 1844, the Crown approached Heke and asked if he wanted a block of land at Waitangi returned to him. He had previously sold this particular section to James Busby, the British Resident, and had signed away his rights to it.

All that Heke needed to do now was to agree that he had been underpaid by Busby for the land, and it would be returned to him immediately. The offer from the Crown was simple and tempting: sign up, and you will profit substantially.

So what did Heke do? He wrote to the Crown stating that he had been paid more than the land was worth by Busby, and that he intended to do what was right. He therefore refused to have the land returned to him, and confirmed the validity of the original sale.

Heke could easily have gone along with government plans and benefited financially from them, particularly as there was growing disquiet in the region and war between Heke and the Crown was imminent. But as he told his hapu, "Your children will remember you for doing what is right, not what is profitable."

As children of Heke, we must do what is right, rather than simply act out of greed. If this means rejecting the latest government scheme to secure our mandate, so be it.

If Mr Little thinks that 30 pieces of silver will derail our ambitions, he is wrong. When Rewi Maniapoto was visited by a Ngapuhi chief in the 19th century, he was taught to fight ake ake — forever and ever. If the Government does not get the approach to Ngapuhi right and deal with integrity, that is what they will face.

• David Rankin is a kaumatua of Ngapuhi.