I am in no way an expert on the Treaty of Waitangi, but I have a personal investment in and love of Aotearoa, New Zealand. There is no other country in which I have spent so much time and work both before and after I became a Missionary Sister of the Society of Mary (SMSM), as in the land of the long white cloud, Aotearoa.
Because of this I have the advantage of looking objectively and affectionately at how this nation works – it is different from any other nation and the TREATY is the core part of the story that shapes who and how and why Aotearoa New Zealand is what it is today.
The Treaty has been described as having two key elements, the first gives all people the right to live as citizens of Aotearoa, and the second affirms for Māori the right to live as Māori with particular responsibilities for protecting and developing those things valued by Māori.
These two key elements of the Treaty are equally important and relate to each other. What binds these two parts of the Treaty together – the right of all people to live as citizens of New Zealand, and the affirmation for Māori, the right to live as Māori, is the concept of turangawaewae, which articulates one of the most important elements of the Treaty – the right of all peoples to belong’[Human Rights in New Zealand Today: Human Rights and the Treaty, 2003].
I believe while there is a wealth of information about the Treaty, there is still a need for this to be more available, which is what today is all about.
I congratulate you for giving of your time to be here and to explore why the Treaty of Waitangi is so important for us.
Therefore, it is vital for all people who live in New Zealand to know and understand the Treaty, not only so we are aware of the history of this country, but also to aid a better understanding of the New Zealand we live in today.
When we come to Aotearoa New Zealand, we accept the Treaty as our passport to live here. The Treaty gives us the right to be here – the right to live as citizens of this country. It includes every body and opens its doors to all people regardless of where we might have come from.
Our own bishops have this to say regarding the Treaty of Waitangi:
In the Treaty of Waitangi we find the moral basis for our presence in Aotearoa new Zealand, and a vision that sets this country apart. We hold in our hands a great treasure – the opportunity to create a society that truly honours the rights of its indigenous peoples.[New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference: The Treaty of Waitangi in Today’s Perspective, 1995]
Today marks the end of Social Justice Week during which the church has encouraged and challenged us to look more specifically at celebrating cultural diversity.
It is my belief that the challenge is not in celebrating cultural diversity (because that is what we are good at). The challenge is how do we live what we celebrate in our everyday life.
Celebrating cultural diversity is about celebrating our equality as members of the human family created by God.
Celebrating cultural diversity is also about celebrating the differences which make each one of us unique – an important difference is our culture: language, customs, ethnicity, and nationality.
As I was preparing for this talk I was mindful of the words of our new Pope Benedict XVI.
‘Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.’ [Pope Benedict XVI: Homily at Inaugural Mass, April 2005].
It is from our dignity as human persons that all other rights and responsibilities flow.
This is what the Treaty is all about. It is about people.
‘It is about respect for persons and respect for their diversity.’ [New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference: Celebrating cultural diversity, 2005].
The Treaty is about equality for all people. The Treaty enshrines social rights of all individuals. It says,
Social rights should be enjoyed equally by Māori and all New Zealand citizens of whatever origins – rights of equal treatment; rights to free speech; rights to freedom of religion; rights to peaceful assembly, and so forth.[Principles for Crown Action on the Treaty of Waitangi: Principle of Equality, 1989]
If the Treaty were not honoured today, New Zealand would be a very different country. As our bishops say,
‘The Treaty was built on respect for persons and respect for their diversity. There is a way forward. Together we must find the way.’[New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference: A Statement on the Treaty of Waitangi in today’s Perspective, 1995].
During the pastoral visit of Pope John Paul II (1986), the New Zealand way of life obviously had an impact on him. He said:
The Māori people have maintained their identity in this land. The people coming from Europe, and more recently from Asia, have not come to a desert.
They have come to a land already marked by a rich and ancient heritage, and they are called to respect and foster that heritage as a unique and essential element of the identity of this country.
The Māori people in turn are challenged to welcome new settlers and to learn to live in harmony with those who have come here from far away to make a new home here for themselves. All of you are invited to share in this land in peace and in mutual respect. You do this by recognising the common bond of being members of one human family, created in the image of God and called to see one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. In this way, each culture is given the chance to contribute its talents and resources for the good of all.[Pope John Paul II: Homily in Christchurch, 1986].
We are in an incredibly blessed land and to have a living document is indeed a taonga for us – a sacred gift that needs to be opened for all to see; and in the opening of that gift to see that the gift of tangata whenua and peoples from many lands enriches this country in more ways than we could ever have thought possible.
I would like to conclude with the question I started with – Why is the Treaty of Waitangi so important for us who are non-Māori and non-Pakeha?
Because it respects the dignity of all people; it ensures that the tangata whenua/the Māori people are not absorbed into a new dominant culture or race; it is a springboard for acceptance and celebration of the great richness that various cultures bring; and finally, it makes us rejoice that we have a living document which enables us to go forward justly creating into our own nationhood. Faafetai lava.