Prominent Maori Fire A Shot Across The Crown's Bow: Objections to the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary, though couched in terms of the sanctity of contract, are much more likely to be motivated by the political and constitutional implications of the Government’s unilateral action. If the Crown is permitted to arrogate unto itself the power to decide when it is obligated to negotiate with the Maori elites, and when it is not, then the growing economic and political influence of those elites will stand exposed as, at best, conditional; and, at worst, reversible.
WHAT HAS a Nineteenth Century Waikato village called Rangiaowhia got to do with the price of fish? As an example of Maori and Pakeha talking past one another – quite a lot. As the current impasse over the Government’s creation of a Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary, and Maori fishery rights, attests, the scope for misunderstanding, even conflict, between Maori and Pakeha remains ominously latent in New Zealand’s constitution.
These latent difficulties are often made worse by the well-intentioned interventions of Pakeha New Zealanders. Historians, in particular, seem especially keen to atone for the sins of their nation’s colonial past. All too often this manifests itself in professional historians affixing an academic seal of approval to what can only be described as outlandish and historically unjustifiable claims.
At Rangiaowhia, for example, Maori and Pakeha clashed in a confused military encounter that ended with the deaths of ten Maori civilians and three Pakeha soldiers. Even advantaged with the far more exacting standards of the Twenty-First Century, the lawyers of today would struggle to convince a court that what happened on the morning of Saturday, 20 February 1864 was a war-crime.
The New Zealand History website of the Ministry of Heritage and Culture cites the judgement of historian, David Green, who rejects the notion that what happened at Rangiaowhia was ‘a premeditated massacre’, arguing instead that it was the result of ‘a breakdown of discipline among troops who had psyched themselves up to face much stronger resistance.’”
The Military Engagement At Rangiaowhia, Saturday, 20 February 1864
If “premeditated massacre” can be ruled out, then using the word "genocide" to describe the tragic loss of life at Rangiaowhia – as a senior New Zealand historian, Jock Phillips, did on the 2 April broadcast of TV3’s The Nation – is simply insupportable.
The nationwide furore which engulfed the former Maori Party co-leader, Tariana Turia, when she used the word “genocide” to describe the fate of Taranaki Maori – especially those forcibly evicted from the settlement of Parihaka on 5 November 1881 – should have deterred any further use of such historical hyperbole. The only recorded case of genocide in New Zealand history occurred in the Chatham Islands in 1835. Pakeha were not responsible.
It is, however, entirely understandable that Maori continue to avail themselves of every opportunity to paint their dispossession in the most lurid of historical hues. To recover even a small fraction of the resources seized by New Zealand’s Settler State, the tactic of inducing the maximum possible degree of Pakeha guilt and remorse is indisputably necessary – and has proved astonishingly successful.
Such recovery as has been made, however, could not have been accomplished without the collusion of Pakeha elites. The price of their cooperation? That the transfer of Crown resources to Maori can only be from one collection of elites to another. The result, Neo-Tribal Capitalism, has shielded the Crown from the much more radical Pan-Maori Nationalism with which it was briefly threatened in the 1980s and 90s. The Iwi Leaders Group is a much more congenial partner for the Crown than a revolutionary Maori parliament – or army.
Even so, the increasingly close relationship between the Crown and the corporate entities arising out of Treaty of Waitangi-based settlements, is beginning to encroach upon the freedom-of-action of elected governments. The National-led Government’s announcement of the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary, which has elicited furious protests from Te Ohu Kaimoana (the Maori Fisheries Commission) is a case in point.
The Commission’s objections, though couched in terms of the sanctity of contract, are much more likely to be motivated by the political and constitutional implications of the Government’s unilateral action. If the Crown is permitted to arrogate unto itself the power to decide when it is obligated to negotiate with the Maori elites, and when it is not, then the growing economic and political influence of those elites will stand exposed as, at best, conditional; and, at worst, reversible.
At Rangiaowhia, the contingency of the Maori people’s freedom-of-action was demonstrated with deadly force. The Kingitanga’s (Maori King Movement’s) assertion of its people’s economic and political autonomy, under the formula of two flags and one treaty, was met with the unanswerable rejoinder of fire and steel. If contemporary Maori leaders do not wish to see their hard-won partnership of elites similarly dissolved, then it might be wiser for them to acquiesce in the matter of the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary – and let sleeping fish lie.
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 15 April 2016.