Don Brash is an intelligent person, that is self-evident, his track record as an academic and a bureaucrat attests to that. But on the issue of Maori, the Treaty of Waitangi and biculturalism sadly he is prejudiced. The following is the evidence.
As repeated on Radio NZ on Saturday, Dr Brash insists that the Treaty confirms that Maori ceded sovereignty, were granted rights over their property and have no different rights than any other group of New Zealanders. This interpretation of the treaty is logical if one is selective in defining what the treaty comprises, namely that it is solely the English language document from 1840 that was signed by 39 of the 540 Maori signatories. The rest signed the te reo treaty, te tiriti o Waitangi, that has quite different meaning.
Why does Don Brash choose to exclude from his consideration the te reo versions of the treaty that 90% of Maori signatories signed?
The ambiguity around what the 1840 documents actually mean, the contradictions between the English and the te reo documents, and the subsequent behavior of the colonizing forces that behaved as though the treaty was a document of surrender – have been the reason for the 1975 renaissance of the treaty and its role in contemporary New Zealand. Since that time governments of both hues have reached agreement with Maori over the appropriate meaning and purpose of the treaty. Don Brash accepts none of this.
The post-1975 process has resulted in a raft of negotiated settlements over breaches, many of which have led to legal definitions of what the treaty, taken in its whole, is to mean. These meanings have been established by the courts and through signed undertakings between iwi and government. So when we talk about ‘the treaty’ then we are inescapably talking about the four elements that comprise that agreement, namely
(a) The 1840 English original and the 1840 te reo original
(b) The English translations of the te reo original and the te reo translations of the English original
(c) The agreements between government and Maori that form the body of negotiated settlements of treaty breaches
(d) The Treaty principles as established through the courts and reflected in the recommendations by the Waitangi Tribunal that have been accepted by the government.
It is this vast body of work then that is in effect, the treaty. It would be quite erroneous to select just one element of this and represent that as the treaty. Insofar as what is recognized officially as the ‘original document’ (not the Treaty, but just the original document) it is the one signed at Waitangi and comprises a te reo text and an English text – which say different things don’t forget, because literal translation was so limited in its accuracy. In the words of Henry Williams who actually constructed what is accepted as the official English language version in 1840 by translating the te reo version into English,
'I certify that the above is as literal a translation of the Treaty of Waitangi as the idiom of the language will allow.'
We were soon to learn that the translation was not accurate at all, hence the ambiguity that is an inescapable reality of the original process. No amount of insistence by vested interests can change or legitimately ignore that ambiguity. Which is why, and this is just critical to any understanding of the Treaty, that people know that under the 1975 Treaty of Waitangi Act, it is the Waitangi Tribunal that has exclusive authority to determine the meaning and effect of the treaty. For over 40 years now governments have endorsed this authority. And by the way, the Tribunal has ruled that sovereignty was not ceded by Ngapuhi at Waitangi.
Come back now to Don Brash and the Hobson’s Choice people. They refuse to accept the Treaty as comprising anything beyond the 1840 English version that 90% of the Maori signatories did not sign. They do not accept the te reo original, and they accept none of the post-1975 treaty processes apart from a begrudging acknowledgement that breaches occurred and compensation was due. That Maori have accepted on average 1.5 cents (NZ Treasury figures) in the dollar of what they have lost through expropriation is never acknowledged or respected by Don Brash.
Brash is intelligent. So by restricting himself to acknowledging as authentic only the original English treaty, it follows that he can justify his colonizing, imperialist perspective wherein
(a) Parliament is sovereign
(b) Maori got to keep whatever property they legally owned (‘legal’ presumably as defined by the Governorship of the day)
(c) In no other respects are the rights of Maori any different to those of subsequent settlers
But of course his case is flawed, because he has been selective in what he recognizes the treaty comprising – just part of one of the four elements that actually make it up. His logic follows, but his starting point is absolutely wrong.
For me the interesting issue here is why does this otherwise intelligent person, choose to be so utterly selective in what he accepts as the authentic elements of the treaty? Why does someone who otherwise builds arguments from an evidence base, in this case reject 90% of the evidence? Why does he see the treaty as little more than a surrender document to a colonizing force? Why does he refute not only the Maori perspective behind the original 1840 process, but more importantly the collective effort of successive governments, academics and historians to stand back and assess what the actual nature of the treaty is? They’ve concluded it’s the agreement between two societies to share the land, to mutually respect the rights of the other signatory to have their society progress and the aspirations of their people fulfilled, and to have a duty of care to each other’s aspirations. This essence of the treaty and is now well-established, increasingly embedded in our legislation and the nature of bicultural New Zealand, an absolutely unique nation-forming agreement.
One is left with the inescapable conclusion that Don Brash has a preconception of what the treaty should stand for and only by refuting all the other evidence can he support that preconception with a logical flow of argument. His is a colonizing, imperialist perspective and he will not accept any evidence to the contrary.
But why would such a highly educated person exclude evidence and defend his preconception on the basis of logic from just part of the truth? One cannot escape the Brash reality – he wants his culture to be the pre-eminent one, for its norms to be the only norms and not to be sharing the norms of the other treaty signatory. This, more than any evidence that supports the alternative, is all that is acceptable to Brash. It’s nothing to do with evidence it is a preference – his preference that Maori society has no unique rights under the treaty, no matter what the reality is. He is religiously separatist, and has no tolerance for the sharing ethos which is the treaty reality.
Why would he prefer Maoridom, as the other treaty signatory, to have no unique rights? It has can only be because of his deep-rooted sense of racial superiority, a prejudice that leads him to regard the Westminster-based system as the only legitimate template for New Zealand. Sharing governance with the other treaty signatory is unacceptable.
Despite the evidence that ours is a treaty between two societies to co-exist, have a mutual duty of care, and encourage sharing of values, for the imperious Dr Brash that is beyond the pale – he just doesn’t like it, and willfully dismisses the overwhelming evidence that this is the essence of the treaty. At the point he sacrifices his objectivity, totally.
How ironic that his propensity to call all government endorsements of the rights of Maoridom under the treaty “race-based policies” when the sad fact is the separatism he preaches is founded on unadulterated racism. The more I hear Brash on this subject the more he reminds me of Enoch Powell, the British politician who was also academically capable and deeply racist. He too had a following.
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