Next Sunday, October 28, is Independence Day, the 183th anniversary of the signing of He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tireni, the Declaration of Independence of the United Tribes of New Zealand, when 34 northern chiefs affirmed and proclaimed their rangatiratanga and kīngitanga over New Zealand.
In February of this year, the National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa held a public event where eminent historian Claudia Orange and political writer Morgan Godfery discussed the changing role of He Whakaputanga in national discourse with Victoria University law lecturer Carwyn Jones.
E-Tangata contributor Kennedy Warne was at the event, and provides the following edited record of the discussion. He begins with commentary from Morgan Godfery on the rising public awareness of He Whakaputanga.
Morgan Godfery: In her formal and informal speeches at Waitangi last week, the prime minister referred explicitly to He Whakaputanga, a decision no doubt taken on the advice of her northern ministers.
Of the current ministry, nearly one third are Māori, and of those, half are from Ngāpuhi — namely Peeni Henare, Winston Peters, Kelvin Davis and Shane Jones. These ministers know how important He Whakaputanga is in the living history of the north.
But it would be incorrect to think that the prime minister’s comments signal the beginning of a top-down change in recognition of He Whakaputanga. That has been happening from the ground up for a long time.
Even as Jacinda was acknowledging He Whakaputanga at the upper marae, less than a kilometre away, at the lower marae, activists and scholars and members of the public were debating He Whakaputanga as they have done for decades.
I think in our national life we often think of He Whakaputanga as the poor cousin, the runner-up, of constitutional documents.
But He Whakaputanga has been a force in the north for a long time.
In the 1970s, activists were saying the Treaty is a fraud and this country’s authentic constitutional document is He Whakaputanga. Those were the days before the tino rangatiratanga flag, and on marches you would see the red, white, blue and black of the United Tribes’ flag — one of the forerunners of He Whakaputanga.
Awareness of the declaration comes and goes. The document waits for each generation to make of it what it will: to learn about it, to debate it, perhaps to elevate it.
The prime minister’s comments reflect a new generation trying to position He Whakaputanga in the national story — alongside the Treaty, not above it, nor subordinate to it either. In her speech, she mentioned the Treaty and He Whakaputanga in partnership, which is how they are traditionally debated on marae, in dialogue with each other.
I think as people from Ngāpuhi take a greater role in public life, so does the history they bring with them. That history is not that He Whakaputanga is an alternative to the Treaty, as some people wanted it to be in the 1970s, nor is it a simple nullity, to borrow the phrase used against the Treaty. It’s part of our living constitutional history.
Carwyn Jones: Claudia, as someone that has done a lot to promote our national story, how would you characterise the relationship between He Whakaputanga and Te Tiriti?
Claudia Orange: One of the key factors in the approach Britain made to New Zealand was to negate or nullify the sovereignty agreement of 1835–1839.
Hobson himself counted 26 of 40 or so signatures at Waitangi were Declaration of Independence signatures, and felt so confident that on the night of the 6th of February he was able to report that it was “mission accomplished”: he had sovereignty.
He was jumping the gun a bit, but that’s how it seemed to him.
If you look at the debates and discussion at Waitangi, it’s absolutely clear that there are two factions, two intentions, two players. Hobson’s trying to fulfil his instructions to fully explain the implications of the Treaty (which he didn’t do) and to get free agreement (which in a sense he did), but only with the proviso that there would be some sort of shared authority. The way he presented it was that the British would set up a civil government, kawanatanga, which would help control Europeans.
But when you look at the Treaty — and it’s the Māori Treaty that’s relevant, not the English Treaty — Māori are guaranteed tino rangatiratanga. Rangatiratanga is the same word that was used for independence in 1835, so it’s not surprising that in a lot of the discussions Māori focus on this.
So you have Pana-kareao from Kaitaia asking the missionaries: “What do you mean by this ‘sovereignty’?” — and being told that it’s just the shadow of the land.
It seems clear that the intention from Māori is shared authority, and that authority coming from the land, which is a different kind of authority from the British legal authority.
Morgan: I like to think of kawanatanga being derivative, carved out of tino rangatiratanga. So, in that light, what the chiefs were affirming in 1835 they were reaffirming in 1840, but saying: “Let’s carve out kawanatanga for you settlers, for the Crown, for Queen Victoria.” So a reaffirmation, rather than something divorced from previous understandings.
Carwyn: So the idea from the Māori side is that the role of the Crown is to regulate settlers — the Pākehā population. While rangatiratanga, as in He Whakaputanga, is guaranteed and protected. The declaration is unilateral, with the rangatira saying: “Here’s a statement of our autonomy and our authority.” The Treaty is about two parties coming to an agreement.
Claudia: What people may not realise is that for a long time after 1840, it was really only a paper sovereignty. Life went on for most Māori the way it had.
Let’s face it, Hobson didn’t have much in the way of resources to establish sovereignty. It’s only as civil government starts gradually creeping across the land that it impacts on Māori — most particularly in the guarantee of protection of land.
It’s only as the powers shift from the governor to the settler parliament in the 1850s that you start to get huge conflict between the two different treaties, the two different intentions, the two different understandings.
Carwyn: Where does He Whakaputanga come from? Is it something from Busby, or is it a Ngāpuhi thing? And is it relevant to Aotearoa as a whole?
Claudia: Busby was a well-educated man, and he was aware that British authority in many parts of the world was highly variable. He knew of the various states in the north of India, where British authority took the form of one person, and generally whatever the people of that area used as authority structures kept on existing. I think that’s what he thought in terms of He Whakaputanga.
He probably also thought that if, in the event that Britain did decide to do anything about New Zealand and wanted to make a treaty, then through the Declaration there would be a body he could make a treaty with — namely the federation of chiefs.
Morgan: In terms of relevance to Aotearoa, my understanding is that it doesn’t seem to have been relevant until the 1970s, when there was a movement to claim and redefine this document as an alternative to the Treaty.
It didn’t appear to feature in a lot of Māori communities before that. So rather than a national continuity from the 19th century, the 1970s seems to be when it was first put to political use at a national level.
Carwyn: Many people today emphasise that the Declaration represented a collective response by different hapū and iwi. We have the term “he whakaminenga” to describe that collective, and that gets referred to explicitly when we come to the Treaty of Waitangi.
There’s some debate around whether that was a profound change or not. Ngāpuhi say they were already starting to collectivise in response to Pākehā settlement. Is there a change that can be attributed to He Whakaputanga?
Claudia: The north had been talking about a collective response for several decades.
In 1839, before Hobson even arrived, Busby got a message from Waimate North in which one of the missionaries said: “I think you should know that there are big meetings up here. They’re worried about what’s happening in New Zealand and they think they should elect a king, but they can’t make up their minds who it should be.”
Busby thought it wouldn’t be very diplomatic to do anything right then because he knew a consul was coming. As more research is done, I think we will find that Māori around the country were thinking about how to collectively handle the changes that were happening in the country.
Morgan: Ngāpuhi started to collectivise first because the stakes were higher for them. They were closer to the rest of the world than iwi in other parts of the country.
My own people, Ngāti Awa, didn’t collectivise until the stakes were high for us. To use a phrase from Claudia’s book, when the Crown came to assert its “substantive sovereignty,” by invading Ngāti Awa on the Rangitaiki Plains, collectivising became a necessity.
Carwyn: The move towards collectivising in the face of risks or threats has always been part of Māori social organisation. Hapū were very fluid — they would break apart, come together, interact as iwi, according to the need of the moment.
Perhaps He Whakaputanga can be seen as part of that tradition.
Coming forward in time to Ngāpuhi’s Treaty claim, do you think He Whakaputanga speaks to the way Ngāpuhi understand autonomy and authority in the north, and that it’s playing a role in the dynamics that are there?
Morgan: I think it’s essential not just for Ngāpuhi but for the country to know just what those rangatira thought when they were signing the Treaty. But is it up to Ngāpuhi to define those thoughts and what that intention means in the 21st century?
Carwyn: We talked earlier about He Whakaputanga being in partnership with Te Tiriti. What does that partnership look like?
Morgan: Partly, that you can’t understand what the rangatira were doing with the Treaty without looking to the Declaration as well. The British Crown wasn’t bestowing tino rangatiratanga, nor were the rangatira creating tino rangatiratanga as something completely new.
Rather, many rangatira were simply reaffirming what they’d done five years earlier. I think it’s essential today that we don’t think of tino rangatiratanga as something Māori were creating out of nowhere. It was something they had been exercising for 800 years, and even before that.
Carwyn: Pat Hohepa, a Ngāpuhi linguist from the Hokianga, told the Waitangi Tribunal that rangatira started using tino rangatiratanga because they could see that Hobson, Busby and the missionaries were leaders and chiefs of a kind, but they were a different kind of chief, not embedded in community the way they themselves were.
So they started using rangatira to describe the professional leadership that Hobson and the missionaries had, and tino rangatiratanga to describe their own autonomy and authority.
Comment from the floor: He Whakaputanga is clearly a shapeshifting document, like the Magna Carta, which has come to symbolise a much greater range of freedoms than were actually negotiated between the barons and King John.
I’m wondering if one of the significances of the Declaration is that if we trace the history of the idea of partnership — the Treaty being an agreement between partners, which only came into our consciousness with the Court of Appeal in 1987 — perhaps He Whakaputanga was an early manifestation of who the Treaty partner is.
Here were the rangatira coalescing as an entity which ultimately became the Treaty partner — a partnership that has taken us 150 years to recognise. And we’re still not there yet. We’ve got Hobson’s Pledge, who go round saying that “Hobson said: ‘We’re one people,’ so we’re not going to worry about the Treaty partnership or honouring promises. We’re just ‘one people’.”
Well, that’s not really the whole story.
Carwyn: It’s worth noting that He Whakaputanga is not just a statement of independence and autonomy. It’s also about strengthening an alliance, asking the King of England for protection. We can see that leading into Te Tiriti o Waitangi.
Morgan: You could see the Declaration as the beginning of this partnership. But I also agree with the comment about the Court of Appeal and this idea of partnership slowly coming into focus after having been sidelined.
When talking about the Treaty partnership, I prefer to talk about power sharing rather than just partnership. I don’t think the Declaration sits as comfortably as the Treaty does with this idea of power sharing, simply because with the Declaration you’re affirming authority, but with the Treaty you’re reaffirming that authority but saying we’re also giving you some power as well.
Claudia: You have to appreciate the pressure and urgency of the situation in early 1840. Henry Williams had been to Wellington on missionary business and had encountered New Zealand Company people who were putting pressure on Māori to sell land.
The New Zealand Company was undermining the British government’s intention not to get too involved in New Zealand. Once you got a private body organising to settle outside of government control, that forced the hand of the Colonial Office.
In January 1840, before the Treaty was even written, you had several hundreds of settlers arriving in Wellington. Williams had seen this, and he only arrived back in the north on January 30th. Hobson had arrived on the 29th.
Poor old Williams had gone to Waimate North for a rest, but at 11 o’clock at night people turned up and said: “You’ve got to come back to Paihia. Hobson’s arrived and he wants to talk to you about a treaty.”
Williams was so appalled at the activities of the New Zealand Company that it strengthened his resolve to include a clause about tino rangatiratanga. Busby had also said that unless there a clause guaranteeing tino rangatiratanga, Māori would not sign.
Williams and Busby were in agreement that the best thing that could happen was some form of British government which would support Māori rights. What they didn’t realise was the extent to which settlement would increase and the extent to which the British government would undermine Māori authority as understood in the Tiriti signings.
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