"Ko matou ko nga Tino Rangatira o nga iwi o Nu Tireni i raro mai o Hauraki kua oti nei te huihui i Waitangi i Tokerau 28 o Oketopa 1835. Ka wakaputa i te Rangatiratanga o to matou wenua a ka meatia ka wakaputaia e matou he Wenua Rangatira. Kia huaina 'Ko te Wakaminenga o nga Hapu o Nu Tireni."
So began He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tireni – the Declaration of Independence. In 1835, five years before te Tiriti o Waitangi was signed, a group of rangatira from Ngāpuhi gathered in the north to sign the Declaration of Independence with James Busby, the representative of the Crown. In doing so, they declared sole Māori sovereignty, authority and leadership over New Zealand.
Five years later, in 1840, when British attitudes towards acquiring Nu Tireni as a colony had changed, the Declaration presented a bothersome roadblock to the colonisers, and so the Treaty of Waitangi was hastily signed. The rest, as they say, is history. The English version of the Treaty recorded Māori ceding sovereignty to the Crown, while the Māori version reaffirmed Māori sovereignty over their lands and treasures, but created space for British governance. Then both documents, and the rights they protected for Māori, were largely ignored for over a century.
While this week we commemorated the signing of te Tiriti o Waitangi, I found myself much more interested in He Whakaputanga. These days, while I acknowledge and support the importance of partnership, the kupu repeatedly running through my head are "tino rangatiratanga" and "mana motuhake". I've come to realise that even within our modern, multicultural nation-state, Māori rangatiratanga over all things Māori is worth fighting for.
I'll be branded as divisive for saying so, I'm sure, but my intention is the opposite. I've spent Waitangi Days past bristling at racist injustice and systemic discrimination, railing against anti-Māori rants and pulling my hair out at media representations of our national day. This year, I realised that I was wasting my energy, my mauri and my mana.
I'm done with engaging with uneducated, ignorant commentators who exploit the customs, lives and experiences of tāngata whenua in order to bolster their ratings and revenue. I no longer deign to give them my attention, nor my emotional energy. I'm making a conscious decision to engage in conversations around Māori affairs only on my own terms. I owe nobody a discussion about welfare, or incarceration, or Oranga Tamariki. Just because I am Māori doesn't mean that I have to be the token Māori in the conversation.
Being the token Māori is exhausting. I, the individual, am suddenly expected (impossibly) to speak for we, all Māori. I want to say:
We don't need to minimise our mamae. We don't need to apologise for our righteous anger. We don't need to be told how to be, least of all the contorted, blanched, palatable Māori-lite version some people want us to be. We don't need to be reminded for the umpteenth time of the numerous ways in which we should apparently fix ourselves. We don't need to seek permission, or to perform the rituals of the good colonised native. We don't owe anyone anything at all.
Instead, I make polite rebuttals and offer patient explanations, which were neither earned nor owed.
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The truth is, I owe it to myself, my tūpuna and my eventual mokopuna to change my focus. The more time I spend engaging in pointless arguments, the less time I can spend feeding my reo, honouring my whakapapa and seizing a better future for my whānau.
I refuse to listen to (or partake in) another "debate" in which uninformed Pākehā pontificate about what Māori should do about Māori issues. It's a waste of time. It's insulting. It's embarrassing. I, instead, choose to place Māoritanga at the centre. Nothing about us without us. If those conversations are to be had, they should be held among Māori, and with those allies that have crossed the bridge from te ao Pākehā to te ao Māori. Māori have to cross the bridge into the Pākehā world on a daily basis. It's time that more Pākehā made the effort to cross the arawhata in the other direction to the Māori world.
I want to be clear that I'm not making the popular argument that it's time for Māori to "pull ourselves up by our bootstraps". Instead I'm suggesting that we stop listening to the utterly unhelpful and narrow our lens to the mahi at hand. We need more organisations like Whānau Ora. You can't Māori-fy systems that were built on our dispossession. We have a wealth of collective knowledge, and we know what's best for our people. We needn't be beggars on our own streets.
We are powerful. Our power is rooted in the knowledge that this is our place. We whakapapa to Nu Tireni in ways that others will never understand. So let's stop wasting our time with those who deep down never want us to succeed, because our success terrifies them.
Let's walk together with our true allies, with those who are willing to undertake their own personal journeys towards understanding, and with our ancestors. Let's not be distracted by the bleating of the same old sheep. While they're talking about us (without us), we'll be creating the future. If they don't catch up, they'll be the ones left behind.