Real concerns for New Zealand history
With Rogers Rabbits taking a breather this week, Ryan Wood steps up to the plate with an in-depth look at the myths in our history.
Interest in New Zealand history has experienced a revival in recent years, particularly in regards to the New Zealand Wars of the 19th century.
As someone who studied New Zealand history to Honours level at university, I've been excited to see the attention from the media and students on stories from our rich and varied past.
There's been petitions to have an official day to recognise the New Zealand Wars, while Radio New Zealand has done an in-depth series on one of the conflicts in Northland that occurred shortly after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.
However, recent trends in the narrative surrounding the Treaty of Waitangi have been deeply concerning, principally because baseless claims are being touted as facts.
One such claim constantly bandied about is the notion the Treaty represents a partnership between Maori and the Crown, and is thus used as justification for all manner of racial segregation in our society, from Maori wards and electorates, to Maori-only scholarships and grants, as well as the apparent requirement to have someone of Maori descent present to ‘bless' every public institution that is opened.
I've read the Treaty, and nowhere does the word ‘partnership' appear.
There's no suggestion Maori and the Crown were to have equal say in the governance of the country – certainly not in regards to the governance of non-Maori.
‘Sovereignty' is a word that appears in the Treaty. In the first article, the chiefs who signed agreed to cede to the Crown ‘absolutely and without reservation all the rights and powers of Sovereignty which [they] respectively exercise or possess'.
In other words, the Crown now has the sole powers of sovereignty, which includes governance. No mention of sharing, no mention of consultation.
The chiefs have given up that power.
What they didn't give up was their land.
The second article guarantees Maori ‘the full exclusive and undisturbed possession of their Lands and Estates Forests Fisheries and other properties which they may collectively or individually possess'.
In other words, the Crown was here to rule and govern, but not to steal or conquer lands. If Maori wished to sell, the Crown had first right of refusal.
In the 1860s, the colonial government plainly breached this article by going to war with Maori in the Waikato and elsewhere, and confiscating their lands under dubious justifications.
It's quite possible to look at that phase of our history and say: ‘Maori were hard done by, and should be compensated'.
But the attitude to the Treaty now is it not only allows for compensation to be paid, but is the foundation of an entirely new system in which there must be a separate Maori version of any role or body with administrative power.
And that contradicts the third article of the Treaty, in which Maori were given ‘all the Rights and Privileges of British Subjects'. In other words, Maori were made the precise equals of British subjects (the modern equivalent being New Zealand citizens) – no more, no less.
And yet now we have Maori who are subject to different rules, including voting in segregated wards and electorates, or who are patronisingly permitted to win scholarships based on lower NCEA scores.
Kumara and Pakeha
Maori history, too, has been twisted to suit contemporary political objectives.
A prime example I read recently was an account of kumara being a ‘Maori superfood', and which encouraged Maori to eat healthily, like their ancestors.
This is an admirable goal, but the issue I had was with the article's omission of the role Pakeha played in bringing the ‘modern' kumara to these shores. Although the author conceded kumara cultivated by Maori ‘struggled to grow in the colder conditions here', he claims it was ‘through improved technology and growing practices the kumara soon began to thrive in parts of the country, and... it quickly became integral to Maori communities'.
However, according to Te Ara – The Encyclopedia of New Zealand, ‘in the 19th century, traditional kumara grown by Maori were quickly superseded by larger and higher-yielding sweet potatoes from North America, brought by sealers and whalers. New Zealand's commercial kumara crop is based on three more recent cultivars... all of which produce tubers about 20 centimetres in length'.
In other words, yes, Maori made great use of the kumara. But what we find today in our supermarkets is a much bigger and more nourishing product than Maori had before the arrival of Europeans (original kumara reportedly grew no larger than a person's finger). It's just one example of Europeans being written out of New Zealand's history.
In a few years, it's quite possible no one will believe Europeans had a history in New Zealand, were it not for our actual presence on these islands.
The same goes for the New Zealand Wars – it's all well and good to hear about the atrocities committed by Pakeha against Maori, but what about those committed by Maori against Pakeha? And indeed, Maori against Maori (perhaps far more common than the other two combined)?
It's great to see people finally embracing our past – but it should be all or nothing.
No Stalin-esque erasures of facts, thank you. We're all mature enough to handle the truth – aren't we?