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(Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)
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OPINIONPoliticsSeptember 7, 2020

Five ways the next government can be an honourable Treaty partner

(Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)
(Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Whoever is successful on October 17, there is urgent work that needs doing to meet obligations under Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Laura O’Connell Rapira offers five to begin with.

In 1840, Māori rangatira and representatives of the British Crown signed Te Tiriti o Waitangi. 

The Māori text, which is the version of the Treaty recognised under international law, gave the British monarchy the power to control British people in this land, and guaranteed Māori would retain tino rangatiratanga over our people, land and taonga

So why does the British Crown via New Zealand parliament govern everyone and everything in this land today? And what can the next government do to truly honour Te Tiriti? 

Below I explore five crowdsourced ideas from te ao Māori.

Return Ihumātao

Lots of good writing has been done about Ihumātao. The tl;dr is the government stole the land at Ihumātao from Māori in the 1860s and it’s long pastime they gave it back. 

Defund Oranga Tamariki and fund Māori solutions

Last year, over 17,000 people signed an open letter calling for transformative change of Oranga Tamariki. Among other demands, the letter calls for all decisions regarding the wellbeing of tamariki Māori to be made by whānau, hapū and iwi, and for the government to hand over resources to hapū, iwi and Kaupapa Māori organisations to ensure the wellbeing of whānau.

For inspiration on how we might achieve this, we can look to our Indigenous whānau in Canada. After more than 35 years of protest, two royal commissions, a swag of class action lawsuits, two government settlements involving billions of dollars, and an official apology to state care survivors, the federal government finally passed Bill C-92

Bill C-92 affirms the right and jurisdiction of First Nations people to self-determine child and family services according to their knowledge, languages, values, and worldviews. The role of the federal government is to provide First Nations people with the funds to operate their own child and family care and protection services according to their cultural practices. 

Given that review after review has shown that Oranga Tamariki fails Māori, the next government should transfer the ministry’s decision-making power and resources regarding iwi, whānau and hapū to iwi, whānau and hapū. Lest they end up with a class-action lawsuit on their hands.

Guarantee at least 25% of government contracts to Māori

Each year, the government spends $42 billion on a wide range of goods and services. The Māori Party would like 25% of those contracts to go to Māori. 

In Australia, the federal government’s Indigenous Procurement Strategy has resulted in 12,000 new government contracts with Indigenous-owned businesses growing their revenue from $6 million to almost $2 billion in just two years. In Canada, Britain, the US and South Africa policies like this have resulted in a significant rise in the number of Indigenous-owned businesses, improving the lives of Indigenous communities.

Businesses can also do their part, as honourable Treaty partners, by adopting Indigenous procurement strategies. In a country that spends over $600 billion annually on government and business contracts, the potential for economic transformation is huge.

Make Matariki a public holiday

The people have spoken: we want a Matariki public holiday.

Adopt Te Mana o te Wai

Te Mana o te Wai is a set of freshwater recommendations for government that was developed by an impressive and diverse group of Māori experts. It outlines a “hierarchy of obligations” that should inform all decision making around freshwater use and says that the first obligation must be to protect the health and mauri of the water itself. The second is to provide for essential human health needs, such as drinking water and the third is to enable other use, provided that it does not negatively impact the mauri of the water. 

In other words, Te Mana o Te Wai says that all decisions regarding our freshwater should prioritise the health of the planet first, then people, then profit. A new independent commission should be established to ensure this approach is upheld and 50% of the commissioners should be Māori. 

In a country with rivers as polluted as ours, with a penchant for shipping our precious water overseas, we need a fundamental shift in the way freshwater is managed.

Te Tiriti o Waitangi is the foundation for a mutually beneficial relationship in which Tangata Whenua and Tangata Tiriti share care and responsibility for this land and all of the people in it. 

This list is a good place for the next government to start honouring their part of the agreement.

Keep going!