Ella Henry, negotiator for Ngāti Kahu ki Whangaroa.

Ella Henry, negotiator for Ngātikahu ki Whangaroa, one of 17 Treaty negotiators interviewed for the new documentary series The Negotiators, starting next month on Māori TV.

In just over a fortnight, on September 2, our intrepid and ever busy Moana Maniapoto will launch her new documentary series, The Negotiators, on Māori TV. Here she writes about why she wanted to make the series — and why all New Zealanders should make an effort to see it.


I remember exactly where I was when I turned the final pages on Dick Scott’s Ask That Mountain, the book that opened up Pandora’s box for me. Sitting on the bed in my little two-bedroom flat near Glen Innes. Heartbroken at the injustice of Parihaka. Feeling ripped off. Angry that I emerged from school so completely oblivious. Not consoled by the fact that I wasn’t the only one who had no idea.

That was around 1981. And yet, here we are, nearly four decades later, scarcely better informed as a country, still debating whether we should teach our own history in schools, so we can prevent another generation of New Zealanders ending up clueless about who we are and where we’ve come from.

We need to do better — to do more to cut through the ignorance and historical amnesia that afflicts far too many New Zealanders, many of whom sit in our highest offices. Many of whom should know better.

That ignorance is never more pronounced than in discussions about Treaty settlements. Let’s be clear. The whole exercise is painful enough for Māori, but when the process and outcome are a mystery to most New Zealanders, the scene is set for misinterpretation, misunderstanding, and misinformation. Cue the wilfully ignorant and downright racist, dying to rark things up.

The only answer to that knowledge-deficit is more information. We need fewer soundbites, more light and truth.

For the last 18 months, I’ve been making a documentary series which looks at Treaty negotiations through the personal stories of lead negotiators. I interviewed 17 of them for The Negotiators, which is produced by my partner Toby Mills and funded through NZ On Air for Māori Television. The first of seven episodes is scheduled for broadcast on Monday, September 2.

The Negotiators was inspired by Chris McKenzie, a schoolteacher in Tokoroa who was moonlighting part-time as a researcher for his iwi, Raukawa. The tribe kept receiving letters suggesting they involve themselves with the big Central North Island Forests Collective negotiations, given it included some of their forests.

“But there was no one else available so they asked me to manage the Treaty claims, just until they found the appropriate person. Every couple of months I’d check in with the board to ask: ‘How are we going in the search for a negotiator?’ And it wasn’t until about a year later that I realised there was no search. That’s how a school teacher in te reo Māori became the negotiator.”

Chris’s wingman was Nigel Te Hiko. The tribal historian describes how he would look wistfully at other tribes who had “Sir-this, and Dame-that. We had a school teacher, a social worker, and a tree-hugger.”

So much for that myth about all negotiators being flash, high-flying lawyers.

Ngāi Tahu negotiator Tipene O’Regan was a former seaman turned speechwriter. “I pulled Charlie Crofts out of his taxi and said: ‘We’ve got a job for you, mate.’” The pair were joined by freezing worker Henare Rakiihia Tau, the iwi’s original claimant to the Waitangi Tribunal. The unlikely trio ended up in then Prime Minister Jim Bolger’s office, trying to wrestle an advance out of Bill Birch, who was the Minister of Finance at the time, to help pay for the costs of negotiation.

Jamie Tuuta Negotiator for Taranaki Iwi

Jamie Tuuta, negotiator for Taranaki Iwi.

Jamie Tuuta was only 25 when he became a Treaty settlements negotiator for Ngāti Mutunga, an iwi of Taranaki. In episode six, The Young Gun, Jamie describes how he was standing in front of a crowd of about a hundred people in Urenui, as they yelled: “Why don’t you Marries just go back to your marae and leave us alone?”

Jamie didn’t get all bitter and twisted. He cut his neighbours a break. He figured that, given our much vaunted sense of fairness, no New Zealander would’ve said that if they’d had any inkling about how the Crown had invaded Taranaki and then, in a master stroke of rebranding, framed the whole sordid exercise as a native rebellion  — an insurrection to protect the “well-disposed inhabitants of both races” so it could confiscate land.

As Michael Cullen, a former Minister of Treaty Negotiations, says: “Much of what Pākehā enjoy today has been built on the back of exploitation and loss.”

When you don’t understand even that, it’s easy to be frightened by talk of Treaty settlements.

Most negotiators picked up the baton from parents and grandparents. Artists Alex and Manos Nathan lodged a claim for Te Roroa at the Waitangi Tribunal. When the claim moved into the negotiations phase, five researchers for the claim reluctantly morphed into negotiators.

Moengaroa Murray was one. “My mother was already involved in the claim, and my grandfather was also involved. I had cancer. A cousin and I sat down and talked about it, and he said: “Well, if you’re going to go out, cuz, you may as well do something before you go. And I thought: Yeah — fair enough.”

It was a steep learning curve. Not helped by a lack of money. Moengaroa recounts how one of her aunts ran a raffle in the local pub to help the negotiating team fly to Wellington. Volunteers up against a fully resourced Crown team. David and Goliath. One group worn down by the weight of collective expectation and a history of intergenerational struggle to reclaim the land.

This was not a job for wimps. They were going up against the Machine.

We filmed our negotiators in cavernous heritage spaces to reflect one part of New Zealand’s colonial history. The beautiful backdrops of Highwic House, Auckland Town Hall, the Great Hall in Christchurch’s Arts Centre, Hopetoun Alpha, the famous old Farmers Tearooms, the Bluestone Room, and the King’s College chapel. They became another character in our story. It seemed fitting because the negotiation process itself is described as incredibly Crown-driven.

We learned that the Crown will only negotiate with “large natural groupings” — iwi or large amalgamations of hapū — so there’s the first spanner in the works. And that each grouping must have a mandate acceptable to the Crown. Think Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Hine and others up north.

A second big issue is overlapping claims.

“One of the dangers of the whole settlement process,” says Michael Cullen, “is that it divides hapū from hapū, it divides iwi from iwi. Because, of course, traditional boundaries weren’t hard-and-fast lines on the map, like English counties.”

And then there’s the actual negotiating bit. That’s done with the Office of Treaty Settlements, now known simply as Treaty Settlements. OTS is famous for changing its negotiating teams. People would come and go. It drove the negotiators nuts.

“Over the 13 years of negotiations, Te Roroa went through nine different iterations of the Crown negotiating team and three or four ministers,” says Alex Nathan. “Really, we were the only constants in the whole process.”

The whole long-winded exercise was frustrating. Wearying. As the years rolled by, the five Te Roroa negotiators dropped to two, and then one. Alex was nicknamed “Last Man Standing”.

Alex Nathan

Alex Nathan, Te Roroa’s “Last Man Standing”.

For Chris McKenzie, negotiating three different settlements simultaneously took a huge toll on his spiritual, emotional, and physical health. He’s now a chronic insomniac.

“It would be fair to say that I would characterise my time as lead negotiator as both the best times of my life — the times that I felt most proud — and the worst times of my life. You understood now, probably better than anyone else in the tribe, your tribe’s dark and horrible history of their engagement with the Crown.”

Michael Cullen, once on the other side of the negotiating table, jumped ship to represent my own iwi Ngāti Tūwharetoa. He had some worries about it. Half my relations accused him of only being there for the Crown, the other half expected him to nail the biggest settlement ever. Even for a former well-connected Crown minister familiar with the policy, the outcome is almost pre-determined.

As Chris McKenzie explains: “The Crown has a very simple formula for deciding what your entire package is worth. ‘How big are you tribally, how did you lose your land, how many people do you have? Were you invaded and killed, or did we just steal it by the courts, or did we only take bits and pieces through the Public Works Act?’ And then somebody at Treasury enters that into his calculator and comes up with a number.”

But here’s the real clincher. The claimant group or iwi involved has to buy their own land back with the money afforded to them in the package. And there’s only so much land available, because, thanks to the 1993 Amendment to the Treaty of Waitangi Act (in response to the Te Roroa claim), the Waitangi Tribunal can now no longer recommend the Crown purchase of private land for return in settlements.

Dr Moana Jackson, Dr David Williams, and Professor Margaret Mutu — our brains trust — helped demystify the history, politics and process, and the terminology for us. They didn’t hold back, either. Margaret described the Treaty settlements as extinguishing rights. Moana said you can’t “settle” something if you don’t honour it first.

This series doesn’t present the definitive story of any claimant group, iwi, or settlement. It’s about people and their stories. Surprisingly, some of the negotiators’ most painful moments weren’t at the hands of the Crown.

“We’d get it in the neck from other iwi and we’d get it in the neck from our own people.” (Chris McKenzie.)

“Everybody has these real moments of doubt and ‘are we doing the right thing?’ And that’s whether you’re in support of the settlement or against it. Every single person is trying their best to make generational decisions, that’s really hard.” (Gina Rangi, negotiator for Ngāti Tūwharetoa.)

“It was so stressful. I told my lot I just want to be Pākehā for a while.” (Mavis Mullins, negotiator for Rangitane o Tamaki-nui-a-Rua/Rangitane o Wairarapa.)

For many of the negotiators and those they representthe gains have little to do with financial and commercial redress. Because, compared to the losses suffered by Māori, there’s stuff-all that can be clawed back from the Crown. It’s about the rebuilding of a tribe, restoration of mana, reclamation of lost stories, putting atrocities and wrongs on record. It’s about the return home of iwi members, the pride in a new generation, embedding the tribe’s role in decision making throughout their district and ensuring a stronger sense of place. It’s about both legacy and potential.

In making this series, I’ve watched these stories over and over again. Pored over transcripts. Woken up in the middle of the night editing in my head. There are still parts that get to me. They tug at my heart, no matter how many times I see and hear them. I feel my throat constrict, something moves deep inside my puku.

Because the thing that gets me the most, that shines through all the ugliness of the injustice and the cruelty and the dehumanising of a people, is the ongoing capacity our people have for kindness — the generosity of spirit, the commitment to inclusivity.

How can that not soften the hardest of hearts? Why wouldn’t you want to do the right thing, to put things right?

“Everyone’s talking about how we do it, but the why is what should give you direction,” reflects Sir Tipene O’Regan. “And I don’t think we do enough of that, either tribally or nationally.”


For more on Treaty negotiations and settlements, tune in to Te Ao with Moana on Māori TV, on Tuesday 20 August, when Moana’s guests will be former Treaty negotiations minister Chris Finlayson, Professor Margaret Mutu, and Raukawa negotiator Chris McKenzie.

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