WelCom News
A newspaper for the Wellington and Palmerston North Catholic Dioceses

Editorial: knowing history helps the nation


February 2014

Cecily McNeill

The genealogy which starts the Gospel of Matthew is important in locating Jesus as descendant of Abraham and the rightful heir to David’s throne, that is, the Messiah. In the same way, our forebears in Aotearoa New Zealand who signed the Treaty of Waitangi are located in a much more comprehensive genealogy and a new report on Te Tiriti from a Māori perspective says knowing the history is vital to understanding and honouring the contract.

Descendants of the most populous iwi, Ngāpuhi in the north, have spoken of the need to know the context which led to the signing of Te Tiriti and, the more representative in Māori terms, Declaration of Independence signed five years earlier in 1835 (see article page 18).

Every 6 February New Zealanders commemorate this agreement between two peoples, some actively by attending ceremonies on Te Tii marae at Waitangi and many simply take a holiday. How much do you know about the history of our nation?

Well documented is the fact that the treaty was signed between Governor William Hobson representing the Queen of England and some of the rangatira of northern iwi. Not so well known is the fact that there were two versions, in English and Māori, which historians say give entirely different meanings. Neither is the subsequent legal history so well studied in this nation’s schools. For example, the Native Land Acts of 1892 onwards required many landowners to attend lengthy court hearings, prove ownership and then sell land to meet costs. Robert and Joanna Consedine say in their Healing Our History (Penguin, 2012, p94), ‘The Native Land Court established in 1865 [during a period known as the Land Wars or, as historian Claudia Orange prefers to call them, ‘Wars of Sovereignty’] became a vehicle to transfer and privatise ownership of Māori land regardless of Māori consent and in opposition to Māori customary tradition. The effect of the legislation, aimed at individualising Māori land ownership, was to make sales easier for settlers and to destroy the power of the tribal system.’

A flurry of laws in the 1890s sanctioned the acquisition of land. Historian Tom Brooking says 2.7 million acres [1.09m hectares] was ‘bought’ by the state against the determined opposition of Kotahitanga, Kingitanga and almost all Māori MPs. ‘The penultimate grab of farmable Māori and ensured that most first-class land had passed from Māori hands by 1900’ [ in Consedines p98].

Ngāpuhi’s leaders have provided evidence to locate Te Tiriti in the context of a partnership between two nations. Although Māori are better off than many aboriginal peoples because of the treaty, Māori are still marginalised in this country. Tricked out of their land and despite the best efforts of the Waitangi Tribunal to hear grievances and return some land, Māori now lead the poverty statistics.

Just as it was important for the evangelists to set Jesus in genealogical context and then to focus on the coming of the Reign of God that he modelled, so we must learn our nation’s history to look forward to the honourable partnership with a proud Māori nation that the treaty promised.