Why would people who were free and running a strong economy suddenly cede sovereignty in perpetuity to a bunch of strangers?
Former Caritas director, Dr Manuka Henare, who is now associate dean at the University of Auckland Business School, put this question to a Caritas-coordinated seminar for Waitangi Day in Wellington.
The talk Te Tiriti o Waitangi, the right to development and human rights, at Connolly Hall, Wellington, on February 2 attracted some 80 people, and was recorded for Radio New Zealand.
Dr Henare said it was important to understand what Māori intentions were at the Treaty signing. He began researching this question after discovering that Bishop Pompallier wrote to the Vatican in 1847 saying that Māori understood: ‘New Zealand is like a ship, which they own, all they have done is hired a captain’.
Dr Henare said his research had not shown any M%u0101ori evidence that cession was intended or agreed to in 1840, but rather that Māori people wished to have a protectorate relationship with the British crown.
He said Māori chiefs were encouraged to declare independence by the British Resident from 1833, James Busby, who drew from new understandings of sovereignty, and the rights and obligations of citizens, outlined in Emmerich de Vattel’s work The Law of Nations. This explained that a nation might seek the protection of a more powerful State without loss of sovereignty.
In 1835 a confederation of Māori chiefs signed the Declaration of Independence which James Busby explained in 1837 was ‘founded upon the principle of the protecting state, administering in chief the affairs of another state in trust for the inhabitants…’
Dr Henare said these chiefs continued to gain support for the Declaration until 1839.
‘Six months after still collecting signatures, we are meant to believe 500 chiefs decided to cede sovereignty?’
He said many Māori organisations had continued to regard the Treaty of Waitangi as a Treaty between sovereign nations up until the mid-20th century.
Dr Henare regards the ongoing challenges presented by different Māori and Pakeha understandings of our early history as worth the effort to resolve.
‘We do have a good little history here. We may have stuffed up on the way through, but we are capable of sorting it out.’