Mistrust and confusion around the idea of co-governance is just the latest example of racist fear being deliberately stirred up at election time, as Treaty educator Te Huia Bill Hamilton tells Siena Yates.  


Every three years, Te Tiriti becomes a political issue. Politicians deliberately put fear into our hearts. It works because some people know so little about our founding agreement that they just take what they hear as truth.  

We don’t seem to have a proactive strategy to combat that stirring. 

But I believe the racists underestimate the willingness and support that’s out there in our communities for giving effect to Te Tiriti and embracing rangatiratanga.  

I taught 30 workshops on Te Tiriti last year. Every one of them was requested by organisations and communities who want to educate themselves about our founding document. They were eager to know how Te Tiriti applies to their own lives and communities. 

They also showed me that theyre serious about building partnerships with the whānau, hapū, marae and iwi in their area. They want to support programmes and projects that help whānau participate as equals. They want improved outcomes for Māori in health, education and justice.  

I’ve seen and felt the sense of fairness among Pākehā New Zealanders once they’re properly informed. 

The exception to this encouraging trend is some of our politicians. It seems they will say and do anything to get a vote.  

Just look at co-governance in Three Waters. It’s been painted as something that’s going be bad for non-Māori, that it’s unfair — and that Pākehā people won’t get their share and will simply have to do what Māori tell them to do.  

Those are the exact fears that were around when I first started my workshops 20 years ago. Pākehā then were afraid that Māori would tell them all to go home, that their land would be taken back off them,that sort of stuff. They said that Māori would be calling the shots and life wouldn’t be fair. 

The leaders of ACT, National and New Zealand First have begun fuelling this type of alarm yet again as part of their election appeal to the rednecked segment in our communities who thrive on racist rhetoric. I expect the attacks will only intensify as their audience becomes more emboldened. 

The ringmaster for the most vicious attacks is David Seymour. His call for a referendum aims to do away with Te Tiriti altogether. His behaviour rouses the right-wing extremists. But he fails to mention that it is our Treaty which provides the authority for non-Māori to belong here.  

That’s the conversation we need to have. We should explore what is meant when we say: “Te Tiriti belongs to all of us.” It’s not just a treaty for Māori. That’s a big misconception which is still out there.  

Pākehā must understand that the Treaty gives them a tūrangawaewae. It gives them the right to belong, and it imparts obligations. We all have a set of rights and responsibilities because of the 1840 agreement. 

We so often talk about our Treaty as someone giving things, and someone else gaining or keeping. But we should use human rights language. We should talk about the obligation of partnership, the obligation of protection, and the obligation of full participation.  

Talking about Te Tiriti this way creates an opportunity to have sensible and productive constitutional conversations — to discuss how rangatiratanga and kāwanatanga can work together. We need to talk about how, without Te Tiriti, local government has no authority to govern.  

I don’t think councils or iwi know how to have those conversations. They meet to talk about roads and water and violence in the streets and things like that.  

But to have a constitutional conversation, you’ve got to rip your heart open and say: “These are the values that we have, these are the things that are important to us. How shall we make them work together?”  

I’ve had to remind people that we have more than 170 years of distrust to break down. I put this question to one group of people I was working with: “How do you build relationships between agencies?” And they said: “You’ve got to have one hundred cups of tea.”  

That’s so true. You can have the best intentions in the world, but the trust needs to be created first. 

Councils and agencies have so many prejudices about Māori. They don’t trust that Māori will get things right, so they always feel that they should be in control. And, of course, our people don’t trust the agencies to get it right either. 

Most organisations who approach me want to know how we can make the Treaty relevant today. I’ve got this mantra: “Don’t try to empower Māori. They’ll empower themselves. Just enable them.” 

Enabling means providing resources, knowledge, systems, technology, and funding. Generally, though, you find that non-Māori want to do everything except hand over power or resources. That’s the bit that I try and shift. 

That’s also why you need to have the constitutional discussion, which is about where we come from, the values we bring, and what’s important to us. And we need to  find common ground where we can work together, and also recognise that there are areas where we agree to be different.

I personally don’t have the decolonisation mentality where I think you need to go through stages of anger and grief about our past. I think that’s a bit of a luxury. You’ve just got to get on and make Te Tiriti work today.  

But it’s going to be a serious challenge for our whānau to bear the election-generated attacks on our right to determine our own future, and our right to exist as Māori in te ao Māori.  

In the past, Māori have “polite-ed ourselves to death”, as Professor Wally Penetito puts it. We’ve used petitions, gentle protest and resistance to deal with racism.  

But I see Māori leadership making a shift. At Tūrangawaewae Marae in August, National’s leader, Christopher Luxon, received a sharp lesson about co-governance from Tainui’s Tuku Morgan. Politeness was put aside for directness. 

In December, Kaipara’s mayor Craig Jepson received a strong rebuke from Dame Naida Glavish for his opposition to karakia. She told him: “We will no longer tolerate ignorance or arrogance. If you dont get that, you should step down.”

She was angry, not gentle. And she had strong community support for that stance.  

I suspect, and I’m hopeful, that racist behaviour will be increasingly called out in 2023 — not left unchallenged by Māori leaders. 

There are other national leaders who want to have proper conversations. I know some leaders in the Muslim, Jewish, Pasifika and multi-ethnic communities are keen to have discussions with iwi rangatira to sort out their Tiriti relationship.  

And what’s encouraging is the prospect of all the supportive groups and organisations and tauiwi, who are willing to learn and change, deciding to combine with Māori. 

They’re out there. I’m seeing and hearing from them every week. And they’re the makings of a powerful force that will bring about change.

So, to those racist politicians and their supporters, I say, bring on the challenges to our whānau. Keep giving us that opportunity to have a full conversation about the constitutional importance of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. It’s long overdue. 


Te Huia Bill Hamilton (Ngāti Kahungungu, Ngā Rauru, Ngāti Raukawa) is a Treaty of Waitangi and human rights specialist. He’s spent 25 years educating Pākehā and tauiwi about Te Tiriti through his company Treaty Solutions.  

As told to Siena Yates and made possible by the Public Interest Journalism Fund. 

© E-Tangata, 2023

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