Just Focus » Blog Archive » The treaty of Waitangi and Māori-Pākehā relations in Aotearoa New Zealand

Nicole Matthewson, age 17, offers her opinion on race relations in New Zealand and National party Don Brash’s controversial Orewa Speech

Race relations have been in need of improvement throughout the history of our country. Since Europeans first began to colonise New Zealand, links between Māori and Pākehā have often been the topic of national debate. National party leader Dr Don Brash asked voters in Feb 2004 — What sort of nation do we want to build’? What we want to build is a society that is fused as one while respecting the unique cultures that it comprises of; a nation with equal responsibilities, rights and opportunities for all. Before we can reach that unity however, we need to explore how we can improve our race relations.

The Treaty of Waitangi
The first step in solving predicaments between Māori and Pākehā is to work out why they have occurred in the first place. One reason for conflict is the Treaty of Waitangi. Two main versions of the Treaty were created in 1840 — a Māori version and an English version (there were a number of Māori versions created all with slight variations). When translated accurately the versions show obvious differences. This creates confusion and conflict to this very day. Confusion reigns over what rights people of both cultures actually have, as both versions are deemed legal in the eyes of the law. However, under International law it is the treaty in the language of the indigenous people that takes precedence (this is called “contra preferentem”).

The Treaty of Waitangi Act of 1975 officially recognised the Treaty in law. The Waitangi Tribunal was set up to investigate Māori grievances, but some people believe this has created tension in New Zealand. Others believe the root cause of conflict was the fact it took so long before anything was done to try solve the complaints. Yet as the government’s Treaty of Waitangi website  says, “In a small society with many links between Māori and Pākehā, the Treaty debate inevitably reverberates through the entire community.”

While it is possible to live harmoniously in a land where two or more cultures are present, conflict does arise when certain ideas or values clash. Recognising that mistakes have taken place in the past is vital. Identifying mistakes and injustices, and showing remorse, would hopefully begin to close rifts between Māori and Pākehā. It is important to remedy those errors in the best way possible, to help both parties heal their wounds and move on. Historian Michael King said in an article from The Press, A Vision for New Zealand, “the position we must grow towards, if we are to achieve social harmony and national stability, is one of a mutuality of respect between the two major cultures”. Respect for each other’s culture is a must if we are to fix past mistakes and light the way for a brighter future together.

Fixing mistakes that have already occurred is important, but preventing problems that might come about in the future is another issue that should be looked at. We need to prevent mix-ups like the Treaty of Waitangi from happening in later years. If we can do that, our nation will be a peaceful one. Dr Brash said earlier this year that he believes we should create equal rights for all in New Zealand – no special treatment for any one particular race. Things such as scholarships for Māori and Pacific Island students only are the kind of thing Dr Brash meant by “special treatment”. If we want to improve relations in our country then shouldn’t we all be equal?

People will always strive for a peaceful, amicable land. No one wants a nation divided, fighting among each other. We all need to work together to improve our relationships. Not just the relationship between Māori and Pākehā, but between all cultures residing in New Zealand as well. Together we stand, divided we fall.