COMMENT

The Treaty can be a pathway forward.

It was tough in the 1970s and 1980s in regards to our bicultural debate and Maori related issues. This was simply because we had been locked out of the debate over Maori rights and Maori matters.

In fact, our entire nationhood debate had been placed in a time bubble. It was all about Mother England and the land of hope and glory. So when it comes to talking about Treaty of Waitangi matters, my starting point is not about the execution of the Treaty in 1840, but rather 1975 – the year that saw the Treaty of Waitangi Act pass.

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Not much happened after that legislation, until 1978 when Joe Hawke and others tried to use this legislation but were brick-walled, which led to their occupation and protest on Bastion Point. The rest is history.

In 1982, the Motunui decision, a landmark Treaty ruling - was issued supporting local Taranaki Maori against the Crown. The tribunal ruled raw waste from Motunui – one of the National government's flagship 'Think Big' energy projects – had polluted Taranaki fishing grounds, therefore destroyed local Maori's abilities to enjoy the rights they held prior to the arrival of others.

This decision for Maori had to be upheld - and was. We are now 36 years down that track.
Remember we only settled the first two major Treaty settlements in 1995 (Waikato-Tainui) and 1996 (Ngai Tahu). On reflection our bicultural debate was deferred for over 150 years given our total reliance on the crown out of the United Kingdom.

At this time we simultaneously faced-down huge opposition from those that benefited from the wrongful taking. Add to this the feisty nature of the bicultural group that laid the foundation blocks of this country.

We are all islanders – whether we came from the British Isles or the Pacific Islands. No one in their right mind would have purposely bonded these blood stocks given their unbridled nature and the fearlessness captured by seeking out new domains over horizons that others feared to challenge.

Perhaps Sir Edmund Hillary best stated this sentiment when at his 80th birthday he said "we have been bloodied and bowed but never beaten".

We saw this Maori rights debate introduced at a time of massive upheaval, given major decisions that were made during the Rogernomics era that were then placed on steroids by Ruth Richardson and the Bolger Government.

We today have arrived at Waitangi Day in a far better shape. We have a clear framework for settlement. Budget allocations to conclude them and due processes are in place to settle them.
Every political leader in parliament today across all political parties have championed, and voted for Treaty settlements. Any argument about the justice required for these settlements is over.

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We are too mature now in this process to allow opportunistic politics about one standard of citizenship to be given any credibility. This issue of one law for all needs testing. Let's trade your one standard of citizenship to that of your privileged Maori neighbour. That is a very silly circular debate.

In the next 10 years, three issues will arise that we must give some headspace. They will be diversity, multiculturalism and the status and standard of Maori leadership.

The Treaty process requires us to provide the evidence of downtrodden treatment carried out by the Crown. Consequently it is easy for Maori leadership to continue to argue how badly we were treated. Undoubtedly we were treated badly, but there comes a time when rather than be burdened by the difficulty of one's history, leadership has to rise to shine a light on a far better future.

We just have to get used to the fact that this is how Westminster style constitution works. Every time a new piece of legislation comes before our House of Parliament, it must be vetted for matter such as fiscal responsibility, human rights, consultation and Maori rights.

Government cannot be let off the hook in regards to citizen's rights, but in saying that, Maori leadership is also going to have to invest in lifting the performance of our people across the board. If this does not happen, we simply copy the levels of inequality now evident in non-Maori communities and in that leadership.

So this Waitangi Day rejoice in the fact that this nation was not born out of revolution, like in the USA, nor was not born out of privilege and class of a monarchy. It was born out of a Treaty and that is our foundation document.

The fact that the promises made within that Treaty took over 150 years to be realised, is a matter of history. That is something we cannot change.

Just look around the new generation of Kiwis, the amount of Maori language with waiata and haka that now determines the identity of what a Kiwi is, and we start to see the evolution of an outstanding nation based on our bicultural founding blocks.