Over the past few weeks I have heard the race-based debate surface; it's a timeworn past-its-use-by-date debate which I'd normally not bother writing about, except this time what it's doing is giving rise to the rejuvenated and confident tangata tiriti voice, and I'm excited as heck.
Tangata tiriti are people who don't argue the existence of Te Tiriti o Waitangi as our founding document. They promote the partnerships it intended, moving away from transactional engagements, preferring lifelong relationships.
They are secure in themselves and know we are equals, one as tangata of the whenua (people of the land) and one as tangata of the tiriti (people of the treaty). Most importantly, they know how our combined whakapapa as tangata whenua and tangata tiriti is the rongoa (remedy) for the future.
Tangata tiriti understand te tiriti didn't create special rights for Māori - we already had Māori social structures and systems of lore in place.
Te tiriti was put in place to provide for Pākehā, because the settlers migrating to Aotearoa didn't fall under British law. Their behaviour became so problematic that Korōrareka (Russell) was nicknamed the Hellhole of the Pacific, hence article 1 of the tiriti to establish kawanatanga (governorship).
In 2021 there is a growing movement of tangata tiriti who are proving to be a voice to be reckoned with. They are bold in their stances, often on the front line of many Māori protests, they're respectful of reo and tikanga Māori and are able to recite karakia and their pepeha.
They're comfortable loudly declaring they're recovering racists, and they teach anti-racism, extremely secure in knowing their place side by side with tangata whenua ushering in a new Aotearoa.
I was very fortunate that the first and most influential tangata tiriti I had in my life was my beautiful Irish mum - Colleen. She never compromised her culture - a fierce Irish Catholic, who bought that pride into her husband's tangata whenua whānau, there were multiple compromises and debates, but together they taught us the value of tangata whenua and tangata tiriti working in partnership and how that benefits us all.
Mum recognised the strength of her privilege and used it to influence positive change, starting up the first bi-lingual te reo Māori speaking unit in her school; putting in programmes and support to educate and empower her whānau and community.
It is this same wisdom and peace I see within our tangata tiriti who stood side by side with us with fighting for Māori wards, fighting to protect our moana from seabed mining, and reporting the violence of white supremacists who are scared of what Māori will do if the balance of power tilts.
I remember experiencing this fear when my iwi, Ngāti Ruanui, first purchased the Mountain House in Stratford. There was absolute outrage at what we might do with it - change its name, Māori-fy it. We invested more than $1 million to upgrade it, employed locals and made it an award-winning restaurant and accommodation for everyone to be proud of and enjoy.
The anger we experience can often be deep-rooted; anger comes from a place of fear. I wonder is it fear of the unknown, or fear that with power we would do what had happened to us? I'm not sure, but the suspicion is unfounded.
Tangata tiriti accept and appreciate the reason they live in Aotearoa is because te tiriti gives them citizenship and mana equal to tangata whenua. This doesn't denounce their own culture, it strengthens their stand on the whenua they've chosen to live on.
They don't hold on to the baggage of colonisation as a dominating tool, they in fact acknowledge it for what it was and take every opportunity to understand and check themselves. They use their privilege for good.
Tangata tiriti are people of the covenant that is Te Tiriti o Waitangi. When you find a tangata tiriti that has a heart for the covenant it's like meeting a long-lost friend, the kind you know our tupuna fought to help treasure and protect.
They want to make the burden light, hold up their side of the promise, clean up their own mess. They don't want to lead our space, they want to own their own, removing barriers of discrimination and clear the way to let us through, so we can live united in peace.
Puna Wano-Bryant says it so well: "Peace making doesn't mean passivity, it is the act of interrupting injustice, disarming the evildoer, finding a third way that is neither fight or flight but the careful arduous pursuit of reconciliation and justice."
I am so excited for the future of Aotearoa, a united tangata whenua and tangata tiriti nation. Everyone else is being left in the past.
• Debbie Ngarewa-Packer is co-leader of the Māori Party