Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Drawing Together, Not Breaking Away.

The Birth Of A Nation: On 6 February, New Zealanders celebrate not a severance of political ties, but their creation. The Treaty of Waitangi binds together two distinct entities: the indigenous people of New Zealand and the British Crown. It is a statement of undertakings and obligations: a drawing together, not a breaking away.
 
THE CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, in 1787, was roughly the size of Whanganui. Its muddy streets, ill-lit and reeking of horse dung, had for five months been thronged by representatives of the thirteen former colonies of King George III. Bewigged gentlemen in swallow-tail coats and silk stockings had laboured through a sweltering summer and on into the milder airs of Autumn to crown their successful war against the British with a constitution to unite the fractious states of America.
 
There is story, probably apocryphal, but beloved by Americans nonetheless, that one of the principal framers of the American constitution, Benjamin Franklin, upon emerging from the final session of the Convention on 27 September 1787, was accosted by a cluster of his fellow citizens demanding to know whether, after all that talking, Americans had been given a monarchy or a republic. Franklin’s reply was typically terse – and telling. Pausing amidst the jostling spectators, he answered: “A republic – if you can keep it.”
 
That day marks the true birth of the United States of America. It is not, however, the day upon which Americans celebrate their nationhood. America’s national day is the fourth of July – the day when, in 1776, the thirteen colonies declared their independence from Great Britain.
 
It is the promises of that declaration’s author, Thomas Jefferson: his ringing sentences about all men being created equal; possessing “certain unalienable rights”; specifically, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”; that they remember and celebrate. The complicated machinery of their own self-government, the document which begins: “We the People” is honoured, but not with marching bands and fireworks.
 
How different America’s Independence Day is from our own Waitangi Day.
 
On 6 February, New Zealanders celebrate not a severance of political ties, but their creation. The Treaty of Waitangi binds together two distinct entities: the indigenous people of New Zealand and the British Crown. It is a statement of undertakings and obligations: a drawing together, not a breaking away.
 
The Treaty offered the descendants of its signatories’ only the roughest sketch of what a future New Zealand constitution might look like. A document more at odds with the universal pretentions of the American Declaration of Independence could hardly be imagined.
 
It is the contractual nature of the Treaty: the multiple opportunities for conjecture and dispute that it offers each successive generation; which has determined the manner in which New Zealanders mark the birth of their nation. It is the reason why, year after year, our political leaders are drawn back to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds.
 
Those who argue that New Zealanders, like Americans, should celebrate their national day with marching bands, fireworks and other noisy displays of chauvinistic self-congratulation, misunderstand Waitangi Day fundamentally. In moral terms, New Zealand is not an accomplished fact, but an evolving proposition. A proposition concerning which the two parties which came together on 6 February 1840 – the Crown and tangata whenua – still have a lot to say. That’s why Waitangi Day continues to be an argument-in-progress – rather than a celebration.
 
It is also why the Prime Minister’s absence from this year’s celebrations at Waitangi is so regrettable. Certainly, communications from Te Tii Marae were confused and disrespectful, but Bill English did not need to draw attention to their authors’ foolishness. He could, instead, have made a virtue of the Marae authority’s expectations of silence.
 
By characterising Waitangi Day as an occasion for the Crown to listen rather than speak, he could have affirmed the unique historical experiment which the Treaty represents. The moot that commenced at Waitangi 177 years ago: Can tangata whenua and the Crown construct a nation in which the claims of the former are not obliterated by the greed of the latter?
 
"A republic, if you can keep it." - Benjamin Franklin on the US Constitution.
 
It is a question that America’s founding fathers did not trouble themselves to either ask or answer. The only reference to the indigenous inhabitants of North America in Jefferson’s declaration describes them as “merciless Indian savages”. The United States Constitution, itself, in defiance of the egalitarian promises of 1776, took care to stipulate that, for the purposes of determining the states’ population, slaves would be counted as three-fifths of a person.
 
In 1863, as the argument over the Treaty’s meaning turned bloody in New Zealand, President Abraham Lincoln spoke at Gettysburg of “a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal”.
 
“Now we are engaged”, he continued, “in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.”
 
The United States endured – just. But, in the century-and-a-half since the Civil War, Lincoln’s proposition has been tested repeatedly.
 
Waitangi Day reminds us that our own proposition of nationhood is still to be resolved.
 
“A republic, if you can keep it.”
 
The Treaty, if we’re prepared to honour it.
 
 
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday 7 February 2017.

11 comments:

Guerilla Surgeon said...

And cue the usual suspects complaining about alleged disrespect to the Prime Minister et cetera et cetera.

peter petterson said...

It joined the indigenous(something disputed as well) people and the Crown. Nothing about the joining the peoples of this country. That is why we must have a New Zealand Day which joins all the peoples of this country.

Charles E said...

Good essay. Reasonable interpretation but I do not share it.
My interpretation is the treaty just regulated what was already happening and going to accelerate shortly. That is the making of one nation of people from two utterly unequal cultures but under one sovereign. Then a monarch, later a parliament, eventually fully democratic.
The other purpose of the treaty was to confirm existing property rights, partly to stop settlers just assuming them but also to regulate who has the land that the colonials can seek to buy or government to acquire for the new one people.
It was certainly ambitious, and perhaps even romantic. But it worked since today we are in fact one nation under a fully sovereign and democratic government, pretty much.
I do agree though there is work in progress to be done. It needs to be realised by a small remaining minority that the treaty has served its purpose and no longer has a role in our constitution. But also by another section of us that there remain settlements to be completed for breaches of property rights back when the treaty was being executed. Once that is done the government should exit all involvement with matters of biculturalism and leave that to evolve organically, as it is anyway.

Colonel JH Blimp said...

The Treaty, if we’re prepared to honour it.
.........
Of course we aren't prepared to honour it. It was made without either side knowing (or understanding) the hand of the other. Imagine if the British had said "in 18 years we will equal you in number". If Maori had uped the ante, would the British had signed? It was elite policy (do goodism).

Kiwiwit said...

You say, "the Treaty offered the descendants of its signatories’ only the roughest sketch of what a future New Zealand constitution might look like." Actually, this is not true. The Treaty made all Maori British subjects, as were the British settlers already. That meant from that point on, New Zealanders were entitled to all the rights and protections of Britain's rich constitutional framework - from the parliamentary representation that preceded the Norman Conquest, through the Magna Carta and the English Bill of Rights, to (eventually) universal suffrage and real equality before the law. We inherited the English Common Law, the Rule of Law, due process, habeus corpus and many other protections that had been built up through revolutions, civil wars, and some of the most enlightened thinking about civil institutions in the history of our species. That is what the New Zealand constitution looked like on 6th February 1840 and what it largely remains today. However, I fear that if constitutional revisionists like Sir Geoffrey Palmer get their way, that rich framework will be cast out in favour of precipitous and ill-considered change.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"The other purpose of the treaty was to confirm existing property rights"

Well it didn't work then did it. Because the government continuously abrogated property rights in order to satisfy settlers' land hunger. Which is funny considering conservatives crap on about property being sacred.

Wayne Mapp said...

The implication of the article is that the contemporary state that is New Zealand has little to underpin it as a modern stable democracy. That it could easily be swept away due it shallow impermanence.

I would have thought the opposite, that New Zealand must be one of the most solid stable countries on earth.

Sure there are ongoing treaty issues, but they mostly seem to be on a predicate track. However, if one reads much of the modern treaty legal literature it is certainly possible to conclude that the New Zealand is an illegitimate and illegal state with not much substance.

But how influential is this literature? How much of it is wishful thinking of the ivory tower, disconnected from reality? How many people actually believe, or could be persuaded that New Zealand is an illegal state that needs to be completely remade?

I would suggest very few. Being a democracy virtually guarantees that such a revolutionary outcome will not happen. We are much more comfortable with evolutionary change, as has been wrought over the last 30 years.

Chris Trotter said...

Over-reading, much, Wayne.

jh said...

Peter Nunns
February 7, 2017 at 4:54 pm
Surely a relevant question to ask would be: What has actually happened to Maori people, both in terms of relative socioeconomic outcomes and political standing in society, since immigration reform in the 1980s?

https://croakingcassandra.com/2017/02/07/maori-and-immigration/

However I think Ranganui Walker Trumps that view:
Reporting Ranginui Walker's death, TVNZ chose to highlight his critique of New Zealand's immigration policy, showing a clip of Walker saying "Close the immigration door completely... I object to people from all those countries coming here... If that trend continues, we will ruin New Zealand. We will make it just like any other part of the world" - see: Ranginui Walker hits out at the volume of immigrants coming into NZ.

https://www.tvnz.co.nz/one-news/new-zealand/leading-maori-writer-academic-ranginui-walker-dies.html

Our lobotomised academics need to get out and do sabbatical as workers in the service industries (tourism) on less than $20/hour (public service average $37/hr) Not that being a day visitor is the same as being a lifer.
..........
But Helen Clark answered Turia perfectly sensibly, by saying 'Our country has been built on migration. You're part of it, I'm part of it, our forefathers were part of it.'
http://liberation.typepad.com/liberation/2007/02/the_maori_party.html

How do academics get away with logical fallacy (fail-grade) posts?

Colonel JH Blimp said...

This series of maps shows the transfer of ownership of Māori land in the North Island between 1860 and 1939. In this period the great bulk of Māori land passed out of tribal ownership. In most cases this was through large sales to the Crown, some of which were later disputed – or repudiated – by the sellers. Other land was confiscated, claimed for public works, or alienated by other means.
http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/map/36362/maori-land-loss-north-island

http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/interactive/36363/maori-land-loss-south-island

Lots of land "sold" cheaply doesn't equate to "all the land was stolen"

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Colonel Blimp is showing his sheer ignorance of the whole process of extracting land from Maori landowners after 1865. It's not worth replying, it's far too complicated and you obviously know nothing. Come back when you have educated yourself.