Engaging with Treaty Settlements (and their past): The Negotiators on Māori TV

Most Pākehā know that there have been some treaty settlements. But I’d hazard most of us don’t know about the violent racist reprisals that accompanied them, such as the sabotaging of Ngāi Tahu boats in Kaikoura, or the torching of a number of their marae and the destruction of the Ngāi Tahu Community Law Centre in Dunedin. As Martin Luther King Jr. writes of the African American struggle, “The Negro has not gained a single right in America without persistent pressure and agitation.” The face of racism here is ugly, persistent, and under-discussed by those of us that it prospers amongst.

here we are, nearly four decades… [after the Waitangi Tribunal was formed] still… clueless about who we are and where we’ve come from.

Moana Maniapoto

This silence is a key target of The Negotiators, the latest documentary offering from Māori TV. Spearheaded by Moana Maniapoto, The Negotiators takes a close look at the different people involved in battling for treaty settlements, the history that informed their claims, and the hurdles they were forced to face in order to get their deals across the line. For anyone wishing to learn more about our history, this is a great place to start.

Sir Tipene O’Regan in the first episode on Ngāi Tahu.

When I was growing up (and until relatively recently), I thought treaty settlements were a good thing. There’d been some bad stuff in the past, but the government had apologised, there’d been some redress and now “we were all moving on”. At least we weren’t Australia! But as the occupation at Ihumātao has progressed, there’s been increasing media coverage of the ways in which treaty settlements have failed to achieve their promise, the Crown forcing divisions amongst iwi in a rush to “settle”, making paltry, token offers that have left many Māori unsatisfied and done little to address the true imbalance of power at the heart of colonisation.

“Much of what Pākehā enjoy today has been built on the back of exploitation and loss.”

Former Minister of Treaty Negotiations, Michael Cullen

While not news for Māori, such information has come as revelation to me, a slow dawning realisation of just how different my existence as Pākehā has been. Of course, it’s not surprising that power would protect its own. As Pākehā, we all benefit off the Western system that the Crown has imposed, the ways in which we are its ‘normal’ hidden – for such is the working of privilege. But as the writing of Paulo Freire makes clear, there are two paths: we can continue our silence and all it does to maintain the inequity of the present system, or begin to engage critically with the world.

While New Zealand is interesting (but not unique) for its treaty settlement process, the government-imposed deadline and fiscal cap reveal it for the administrative task that the Crown has conceived it as – not one of healing, reparation, or, more crucially, honouring of the treaty it claims to address. Further, the total amount of financial and commercial redress to date is valued at nearly 2.5 billion – as The Negotiators points out, a figure that is equivalent to the total cost of superannuation payments…… for 12 weeks.

you were never going to get but a small fraction of the what value you had lost… we had no wish to bankrupt the economy we wanted to be a part of.

Tā Tipene O’Regan

As just the first episode of The Negotiators shows, the history Pākehā like to think of as fair was one that proceeded by active disrespect, misdirection, and outright deception – in the words of Sir Tipene O’Regan, one of the chief negotiators for Ngāi Tahu, “confiscatory fraud, actively and knowingly done.”

So, too, has the treaty ‘settlement’ process been marked by Crown bullying, its power used to set terms that Māori are forced to agree to in search of redress: forming “large natural groupings” at odds with the more local authority of hapū tino rangatiratanga, navigating “overlapping claims” that deliberately pit relations against one another, and putting small groups of over-worked Māori against the deep pockets and legal expertise of the state, the shifting ground of negotiations a clear tactic that the Crown has used to protect their own. And when a deal has finally been negotiated? Māori are expected to use their settlement money – never more than two cents on the dollar of what was taken – to buy back their own land. And thanks to legislative changes following the anti-Māori advocacy of convicted rapist and arsonist Alan Titford, the Waitangi Tribunal is no longer able to recommend the Crown purchase of privately owned land for return in settlements.

Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu

As The Negotiators makes clear, the Crown doesn’t operate in isolation. Also relevant is media misdirection and the over-exaggeration of Ngāi Tahu’s claims as put forward by a small but vocal minority of Pākehā, leading to the fear-mongering that continues to proliferate today. As research from the University of Auckland shows, while Pākehā are on average happy to include Māori on a symbolic level, far fewer are willing to admit that the past’s wrongs are relevant today, or engage with the material redistribution that they entail. Treaty ‘settlements’ go right to the heart of this aversion, but as the Waitangi Tribunal has pointed out, this reflects a blindness on the part of Pākehā – not Māori: “While only one side remembers the suffering of the past, dialogue will always be difficult. One side commences the dialogue with anger and the other side has no idea why. Reconciliation cannot be achieved by this means.”

As part of the Pākehā fear raised by treaty settlement (and as a classic example of the way institutional racism works) New Zealand banks refused to back Ngāi Tahu, forcing them to seek support from a Japanese businessman, Masashi Yamada.

In order to progress in a way that might be said to be meaningful, Pākehā need to engage with our history, both in the colonial past and that much closer to today. The Negotiators provides one route, offering a compelling account of not only the ways in which the Crown failed in its promises to Māori, but also of the mana of those who resisted its taking, and the efforts they’ve gone to for justice.

It’s about both legacy and potential.

Moana Maniapoto

While classic media narratives position Pākehā as opposed to Māori, as part of a divisive binary that keeps the status quo in place, O’Regan’s discussion of all the ways in which Ngāi Tahu’s negotiation was supported (both within and from outside the iwi) gifts Pākehā another possibility – not denying the relevance of past injustice, but standing at the side of Māori in their struggle for justice. As O’Regan reflects, history is central to fixing a path forward: “unless you’ve got this depth of concern and understanding about where you’re from, it’s very difficult to get any real concept of where you’re going. Everyone’s talking about how we do it, but why is what should give you direction.”

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