The Fate of the Treaty Principles

Distorting the Treaty Principles 

The Act-National-New Zealand First government plans legislation which will egregiously distort the Crown Treaty Principles. Far from perfect when first compiled, the principles were then described by Professor Jane Kelsey as a crude attempt by the government to rewrite the Treaty. It’s like going from bad to worse. 

At that time, the government was being increasingly pressured by Māori and the courts to define – and enshrine – in unequivocal terms how its commitment to the Treaty would actually play out, in Māori/public policy terms.

The context was, among other things, the administrative reform and devolving of Māori Affairs; the development of a Treaty policy which recognised its organic partnership principles;  and the further enabling of  the Waitangi Tribunal to place all of our history under judicial review.

In 2004, Dr Danny Keenan published an analysis of the Treaty Principles, positioned within this turbulent 1980s public policy context.

Plse click here – The Treaty is Always Speaking – if you’d like to access the chapter.

The chapter is entitled ‘The Treaty is Always Speaking? Government Reporting on Maori Aspirations and Treaty Meanings’; and appeared in Past Judgement. Social Policy in New Zealand History edited by noted historians Dr Bronwyn Dalley and Professor Margaret Tennant (University of Otago University Press, Dunedin, 2004, pp. 207-223). 

Incidentally, this prescient phrase – the Treaty is Always Speaking – comes from eminent Māori Jurist Sir Eddie Durie, formerly chairman of the said Waitangi Tribunal.  

From a Māori historian’s perspective, this Treaty Principles debate can also be located within a much larger historiographical context.

This relates to Māori resisting continuing attempts to promote outdated grand narratives of our history, founded upon colonisation. Instead, Māori seek to promote counternarratives based upon the centrality of customary knowledge, as introduced below.  


Māori Knowledge, Memory and History 

Paepae as controlling site of memory

The paepae is the place on the marae where elders stand to deliver their speeches and, as it so happens, to present their memories – or versions of history. The paepae provides context and legitimacy for the histories – and memories – that follow.

The paepae is where the elders sit - in this case, alongside the main wharenui [Putiki Pā, Whanganui].

The paepae, then, can be said to be the controlling site of all Māori knowledge, including knowledge of the past.

Māori memory and remembering

Speeches are an oral process of course, delivered before a discriminating audience of elders and whānau. For Māori, such whaikōrero facilitates many things, not least the art of remembering. In the context of the New Zealand Wars, it is often said by Pākehā historians that ‘we have forgotten the wars’. Whilst this might be true of Pākehā, it is not true for Māori.

‘Forgetting the wars’ is a conversation Pākehā are having with themselves; it does not involve Māori. Pākehā historians don’t make this clear, but they should. Māori have never forgotten the wars. Danny had an article on this matter published in a number of newspapers early in 2022 – you can read the article here – Māori have not forgotten the wars.

How then do kaumātua bring to mind such memories, histories and knowledge when delivering oratory from the paepae?  If we think about this process – that of a cultural retention of memory – we can see how deeply embedded such histories of trauma can be.


Compiling Oral Histories

During the 1990s, the compiling and writing of oral histories became a particular interest of Māori who were then setting out as ‘historians’, whether as Māori historians or tribal historians.

The distinction wasn’t important to Māori, since methods and processes were largely the same for both groups. However, a small group of Māori historians working within mainstream universities, and disciplines, did emerge, eventually establishing Te Pouhere Korero, a network of Māori historians. This gave rise to a small but interesting literature, written by Māori, focusing on what exactly oral history was to Māori – its methods, processes, protocols and value.

Some attempt was also made, at this time, to locate those observations within a much broader mainstream literature dealing with oral history.

In 2005, Danny published an article on Māori oral history, where he essentially argued that the form and frameworks of oral history for Māori took their cue from the paepae.

That is, from the place where elders stood, when delivering important speeches, especially to visitors coming onto the marae (the marae of course being the temporal, living embodiment of all Māori knowledge, including knowledge 0f the past, or history) .

Plse click here – The Past from the Paepae – if you’d like to read the article. The reference is – Danny Keenan, ‘The Past from the Paepae. The Uses of the Past in Māori History’ in Māori Oral History: A Collection, (eds) Rachel Selby and Alison Laurie, Oral History Association of New Zealand, Wellington, pp. 54-61 [see cover above, left].

Further reading: for a discussion of how Māori histories might intersect with Pākehā histories, see Danny Keenan, Mā Pango, Mā Whero, Ka Oti, Unities and Fragments in Māori History, in Bronwyn Dalley and Bronwyn Labrum (eds), Fragments. New Zealand Social and Cultural History, Auckland University Press, Auckland, 2000, pp. 39-53.