The Treaty claims settlements process could provide a positive way for Māori and the Crown to plan for the future together in the spirit of the Treaty of Waitangi.
But, Professor Mason Durie, vice-chancellor of Massey University and professor of Māori studies, said New Zealand needed to work out how it valued and recognised its indigenous people given the government’s refusal to sign the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which was ratified last year. This was against the backdrop of the Foreshore and Seabed Act which effectively extinguished Māori customary rights whose protection was promised under the Treaty.
‘By stepping aside from the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, other nations and other indigenous peoples might well conclude that New Zealand intends to deny Māori any special recognition on the grounds that the passage of time has extinguished the relevance of indigenous rights.’
But Professor Durie says the progress the nation has made in addressing the indigenous position makes this unlikely.
He said the Treaty was firmly embedded in the life of the nation and over the past two or three decades it had ‘contributed to a spectacular transformation of New Zealand society regenerating Māori faith in the Treaty’s promise’. The Treaty had come to be about how New Zealand valued its indigenous people, their resources and their participation in society.
Since the formation of the Waitangi Tribunal in 1975, and subsequent reforms in 1984 to incorporate the Treaty in legislation and policy, Māori have become actively involved in tertiary education, in the governance and delivery of health services, parliamentary decision-making, economic growth, environmental management, conservation, heritage management, the IT industry and the professions.
The Treaty claims settlement process has enabled a number of tribes to forge new partnerships with the private sector, local authorities and international corporations.
‘Māori have become major players within the fishing industry and successful entrepreneurs in a range of small and medium business enterprises.’
As well, Professor Durie says, there has been a rejuvenation of Māori participation in ‘te ao Māori’, the Māori world. Faced with extinction in the early 20th century, te reo M%u0101ori has revived with a new generation of fluent speakers and a Māori television channel which ‘enables M%u0101ori viewers to be part of extensive tribal and community networks’.
The application of the Treaty of Waitangi to policy and practice has been a major contributing factor to this Māori renaissance.
‘Far from being misplaced, M%u0101ori confidence in the Treaty as a vehicle for change and positive development is well founded.’
Once the adversarial platform of Treaty settlements has been removed, the understandings and new associations that have developed could be the basis for the two partners to ‘jointly plan for the future within a climate of enthusiasm and trust’.
Just as the Treaty’s purpose was to provide a basis for accelerated development while ensuring the safety of Māori physical and intellectual resources, so it can today be a way of moving into the future.