Day 506: On 25 May 1978 a massive Police operation, backed by the NZ Army, evicted 218 protesters from their occupation village on Bastion Point. This was the last time a Kiwi prime minister unequivocally answered the question: "Who has the final say in New Zealand?"
ONLY A FOOL would attempt to portray sovereignty as an unimportant issue. (See The NZ Herald, Editorial, 11/2/15) It takes a special sort of smugness and a huge amount of ignorance to suggest that “practical” people don’t really care who has (or should have) the final say in their country. Only someone for whom the idea of not having the final say is genuinely inconceivable would make so absurd a claim. And only someone with no real knowledge or understanding of the past could possibly believe that sovereignty is ever acquired cheaply or relinquished lightly.
The question of precisely where sovereignty is located in Aotearoa/New Zealand is by no means an easy one to answer. Indeed, it has been many years since anyone seriously tried. The first instinct of our politicians, bureaucrats, and even of our police officers, whenever the question of sovereignty raises its deeply problematic head, is to fudge, fudge, fudge, and, if necessary, fudge again.
The last time a New Zealand political leader unequivocally asserted the indivisible sovereignty of the post-colonial Settler State was Rob Muldoon. Faced with the refusal of Ngati Whatua protesters to abandon their 506-day occupation of Auckland’s Bastion Point, Prime Minister Muldoon ordered their forcible eviction.
This was by no means a straight-forward exercise. Hundreds of Police, supported by the NZ Army, were required to remove the 218 people who refused to vacate their ancestral land. The images broadcast to New Zealand on the evening news of 25 May 1978 were deeply disturbing to a great many of its citizens – so much so, that no similar operation was authorised until the ill-starred “Operation Eight” of 2007.
Certainly, when confronted with the Whanganui people’s occupation of Pakaitore (Moutoa Gardens) in 1995, the government of Jim Bolger steadfastly refused to authorise the use of force to secure their eviction. Nearly 20 years on from Bastion Point, and with many Maori openly asserting tino rangatiratanga, or Maori Sovereignty, it was by no means certain that the protesters and their supporters would “go quietly”.
Fortunately, for the peace of the realm, the Whanganui people were equally unwilling to answer the question: ‘Who has the final say in New Zealand?’ Instead, like their warrior ancestors, they quietly “abandoned the Pa” – slipping away into the night and leaving the gardens empty.
Though the ill-fated “Operation Eight” was not launched in response to a land occupation, the manner of its execution left a great many New Zealanders – Maori and Pakeha – with a bitter taste in their mouths. The television images of heavily armed Police manning road-blocks and carrying out property searches and interrogations throughout the tiny Tuhoe settlement of Ruatoki revealed just how high the sovereignty stakes had been raised since 1978.
Any New Zealand government intending to assert state power over Maori in the second decade of the twenty-first century must anticipate considerably more than the passive resistance of Bastion Point, and the self-restraint of Pakaitore. It must be ready to use deadly force.
The Herald’s editorial writer would, of course, reject all such statements as alarmist. He is quite certain that “practical” Kiwis will never let things come to such a pass. But that is only because a willingness to compromise has always been the strongest component of the Maori-Pakeha relationship. Faced with stepping forward into open and uncompromising confrontation, Maori and the Crown (some disgruntled Pakeha might say ‘especially the Crown’) have, for the most part, chosen to step back.
But it requires an heroic leap of faith to accept that one’s country’s rulers are going to be lucky all the time. A day may come when New Zealand is again ruled by a person with the same autocratic temperament as Rob Muldoon. When the issue in dispute is too important for compromise. When neither side feels able to step back from the brink without suffering a catastrophic loss of mana. It is on that day that the all-important question: “Who has the final say in New Zealand?” will be answered. And the only “practical matters” to be considered on that day will be: Who’s will is the stronger? and, Who has the most guns?
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Wednesday, 11 February 2015.
While I agree that the Herald editorial you refer to was pathetic, your response to the sovereignty question is intemperate. New Zealanders have no appetite to re-litigate the question of sovereignty, or to revisit the battles of the past.
Your suggestion that the use of ‘deadly force’ against Maori by the State is a realistic prospect in this country is fanciful at one level and irresponsible at another.
Your assertion that sovereignty is still an open question, only to be answered by ‘who has the most guns’ is an appalling statement.
What is it that causes you, and others of the political left to long for revolution and bloodshed?
The Herald article was pathetic, but your response is sinister.
If anywhere, sovereignty is wherever an authoritative decision is made in government - that location changes from decision to decision, so to say that sovereignty can be located in any one place is based on a misunderstanding of the concept. As is the the entire blog post above...
Waiting for the "by geez those Maries woz all wearing grass skirts and eatin'each other before we civilised 'em" comments – 3 – 2 – 1......
It was ever so
I'm enthusiastic about the idea of eliminating the real differences between Maori and other New Zealanders - in educational achievement, income, quality of life, etc - but am opposed to efforts to create a two tier political system. I'm concerned by the apparent willingness of some on the left to countenance the former by way of the latter.
I agree that the Herald's editorial was foolish.
It will need to re-litigate if it wants to deny Maori sovereignty - The law is with Maori on this.
Sovereignty was never handed over. So I figure - Just hand sovereignty of land and resources back to Maori and continue as we were. No settlements would need to happen because they got what they wanted and as long as we worked on making our parliamentry system interface with Hapu on matters that required governance then we are good to go.
By the looks of your photo I dont think you will be around to see this tho.
Maori sovereignty will ne returned and it will be a peaceful process that honours the treaty as agreed.
We will then show the rest of the world how its done and then even Israel and Palestine can follow our lead.
The Crown have NEVER had sovereignty.
So many pakeha believe there is an "open question" as you say and just want to "move on".
There is no open question...if you do the research you will find that even the King was an advocate of Maori sovereignty.. It wasnt until Queen Victoria came into the picture that this changed.
There is NO question. What is going to happen is that when Maori do reach a higher collective state of organisation they will simply use their elected members on the Maori wards to honour that sovereignty. The system for representation already exists - Its just a matter of Maori getting their shit together and claiming a mandate on land and natural resources and through the courts ensuring that their sovereignty is honoured in parliament.
The Hapu can govern in their own way and use the Maori MPs as an interface to parliament.
Who are we Kiwi.Of course our soldiers are going to Iraq,to fight and support our friends.
Flag that as obtuse ignorance,not.Our flag needs changing,distract from our corporate governance and our surplace.
Give them what they need,give them the pride we decide you should fire up about.
State housing getting sold for those in need of affording the Kiwi dream.
Zero hour contracts,15 hours a week,get you a deposit for a State house on minimum wage and afforded at 15 hours a week.
We are a rock and roll economy,and will you join us and change our flag.
You are quite correct. Sovereignty is asserted - and accepted - every minute of every day in a well-functioning state.
My point, however, is rather different. I'm asking what happens when "an authoritative decision is made in government" that is not accepted.
You might recall the woman whose deceased husband's body was seized by his Tuhoe relatives and buried among his ancestors. This was not what the man in question, or his widow, wanted. The matter went all the way to the Supreme Court which ruled that the man's body must be returned for burial in the South Island.
But, when the woman, carrying a Court Order, came to reclaim her husband's body, the Tuhoe point-blank refused to hand it over. The Police, who were present to see the Court's ruling enforced, refused to act. The man's body remains buried in Tuhoe soil.
The State's "authoritative decision" was resisted. The State backed off. Who exercised sovereignty in that Tuhoe graveyard?
When you are ready to use respectful language re: your fellow New Zealanders, your comments will be posted.
Making and repeating assertions is not the same as presenting a rational argument. Evidence, dear boy, evidence!
The state pretty much has a monopoly on deadly force. And given enough motivation, will always use it. They came pretty close to using deadly force in the Urewera raids, but seem to have been satisfied with intimidating children. The question seems to me – that given the Armed Forces appropriation of Maori warrior culture, and the disproportionate number of Maori within the Armed Forces – would they be ABLE to use it? Would Maori tribal loyalties trump pan Maori sympathies :-)?
Yes ....have to wonder what the rational behind the decision to allow those members of Tuhoe to thumb their noses at the rule of law was....suspect that decision will come back to haunt the powers that be in times to come.
Chris wrote - with respect to the Takamore case: I'm asking what happens when "an authoritative decision is made in government" that is not accepted.
It remains to be seen whether or not the matter will eventually be resolved in accord with the law. Tuhoe politics is sensitive due to past police mistakes, so one can understand their unwillingness to go in, boots and all. Is this not a relatively exceptional case?
Has anyone referred to the dictionary on the meaning of 'sovereignty? My ancient chambers allows 'chief' as a possible simile , but a sovereign is singular in his or her jurisdiction, and is autonomous.
Neither moat as a race of people nor "joint' are words that are compatible with the concept of sovereignty , and neither is democracy such as we are now fortunate enough to live in ; but this was not the case when the treaty of waiting was signed.The maori chiefs most certainly held it in the classic sense within their various tribes, and the queen of england as the other signing authority was at that time nearly as autonomous within her realm.
The treaty was not signed by a New Zealand government, and when a very few years later a New Zealand government was formed it did not recognise the treaty and when full independence from England was established our government still didn't recognise it until Geof Palmer inserted a little clause in drafting the legislation establishing the state owned enterprises to the effect that they should not transgress the principles thereof , and in so doing recognised it as being relevant to N Z law and opened up a can of worms for us all to fight about for all future generations,
There have been many injustices and deceits perpetrated on maori as my forbears established themselves. I'm sorry, but this has been the pattern of human history,all human history, We most certainly should correct what injustices we can identify in terms of loss of property unfairly but no one in this country has sovereignty , we live in a democracy and long may we continue to do so.
Cheers David J S
P S if this is too long please don't print any of it lest it' form a meaning that I had no intention to be known .
Sovereignty as understood in political theory is associated with the modern nation-state. As such, applying the term in a tribal society is problematic, to say the least. Sovereignty claims were made in 1830s and 1840s New Zealand, but sovereignty in terms of an effective state encompassing the whole of New Zealand took much longer to establish. The Tuhoe issue is an interesting one: the police have operational autonomy, and in this case the choice to enforce the law or not was theirs. From a bit of research, it seems that the Tuhoe authorities had agreed to comply, but this was resisted by section of the iwi. In this case, if that is the correct interpretation, it's arguably not 'Maori sovereignty' in operation, but popular protest. In that sense, it's akin to the police calling a halt to the Hamilton match during the Springbok tour: a failure of sovereignty, if you like, which can sometimes happen. Or a case where sovereignty is briefly captured by the people, or a section of it.
If people took the time to study and understand the true meaning of the founding document of New Zealand(the treaty). Many would then realize that they have been mislead into believing a false interpretation of it. Shall I mention that there are two interpretations of this treaty, an English and a Maori version, and that the interpretations of the two differ from each other, and can be easily misconstrued by Maori or Pakeha. At the end of the day Maori definitely still do rightfully hold TinoRangatiratanga(Cheiftanship) and Sovereignty over their land and themselves!!! Its states very clearly in the treaty. And Also the Treaty was a so called agreement between the Maori and the Crown, and answerable to a world arena of common law and sense. In saying that, the NZ Government no longer represents the British crown, but is the illegitimate NSW settler government occupying parliament in Wellington unlawfully, and making its own policy's unlawfully, again answerable to international law!!! Many Pakeha have been mislead.., Common pakeha complain and are offended when we Maori complain and try to practice our sovereign rights as Maori by law in our own lands. Yet it is the ignorance and or hypercritical arrogance of these pakeha that can be offensive... After all the unlawfull NSW settler government is still getting away with much, and much is still unresolved, like its unlawful grabbing and seizure of much Maori land... If your not feeling or believing all of what I've said in this post, then maybe you should do a bit more research and stop being so complacent with what the current establishment feeds you... And also It seems obvious the position that Chris Trotter the author of this article takes on this is pro establishment/government... I too grew up in Otago, which is maybe part of the reason I'm not surprised by his apparently obvious stance on this, plenty of ignorant and smug pakeha down there...
Was overhearing a conversation the other day having lunch about Syria.Two well dressed types having their lunch and passing the time of day.The conversation spun round to the Tuhoe,now if they had any strenth with the rest of the Maori,why ant they firing up like those I.S.I.S headcases.Did feel like passing their table and saying for your ignorance.
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