June 2013 Māori Law Review

The Treaty as a normal part of our public life

Amy Dixon's paper to the Māori Law Review symposium on the Treaty of Waitangi and the constitution.

12 June 2013

He whakataukī: Ka pū te rūhā, ka hao te rangatahi

I am honoured to speak on this panel of rangatahi about the place of the Treaty in our constitution – a kaupapa which has huge potential to bring our nation forward. But I am more particularly honoured to be able to speak in my rangatahi capacity. In any such kōrero, rangatahi are inclined to bring some motivation to be a little more idealistic in the discussion. But, in this particular kōrero, I think it is pertinent to recognise that we come to this hui with a different historical context in mind. I would argue that even if we don’t really know what the Treaty is, for our generation, the Treaty has become a normal part of our view of public life.

Growing up in my Pākehā family, I didn’t know what the Treaty meant. I had no memory of the Land March or Bastion Point. I had no idea that the Treaty had only begun to be constitutionally recognised just decades before. But I saw those important looking Māori guys in feathery cloaks signing documents in the media, we recognised Waitangi Day every year, I learnt to count to 10 in Māori not long after I could count in English. So what I’m saying is, we might not know what the Treaty really means, but to us, it’s always been there as something which somehow matters.

My point here, though, is not to suggest that our generation necessarily thinks that the Treaty should be entrenched in our constitution, or take on any other form of embodiment, but what I suggest is that our familiarity with the Treaty as being something about government and Māori is fertile ground on which the seeds of a new constitution can be sown. As some commentators have said, this is just the beginning of a constitutional kōrero. So kia manawanui, be bold I say. It is important that we set down our bold whakaaro which can be grown into a constitution, if not now, then in the not so distant future when our generation comes to power.

What place do I see for the Treaty in the constitution?

So what place do I see the Treaty as having in the constitution?

Well, first, I do think the Treaty should be given legal status in our constitution. But I’ll leave the details of that for today except one point. I do think it is extremely important to find a way to hold onto the diversity and institutional knowledge of the Waitangi Tribunal which has been built up over time. To me, the Waitangi Tribunal is not only an important institution in its own right, but it brings a special character to our current constitutional make-up from which many lessons can be learned – in its use of a wide range of knowledge and expertise and a much more diverse array of people who are involved.

Secondly, however, I would like to raise a point around the idea put forward by Aotearoa Matike Mai that we should have a Treaty-based constitution. To me, there is particular benefit in building our constitution around values which are drawn from the Treaty, perhaps in addition to recognising the Treaty as a legal document. It is true that this approach would more properly recognise the Treaty as our nation’s founding document.

But something else that I think this can bring is to better reflect our nation’s move towards a highly multicultural society. Perhaps the values which are settled on as deriving from the Treaty will also address the fact that there are growing populations which also need to be actively supported and recognised in our constitution. Of course, such an approach can bring with it difficulties of definition and responsibilities beyond capability. But just as it is said that a prosperous society is built on an empowered indigenous people, I think it is important to empower other groups which, particularly in the social policy arena, face very similar issues.

Of course, it is perhaps not the Treaty that should deal with this, but rather some other mechanism, including some recognition of social rights. But that is a discussion for another day.

However, by using values derived from the Treaty to address this issue, the constitution is not only addressing a relationship to all peoples, but more importantly, the consitution recognises the relationship of these peoples to the indigenous peoples of the land, a relationship which is currently under-addressed in public life.

Rangatahi are leading this kōrero into the future

Lastly, I would like to return to the fact that we, the rangatahi, are the ones leading this kōrero into the future. As already noted, we are perhaps best to conceptualise this as merely the beginning of a constitutional conversation. This is giving us a chance to reset the clock as such. To bring people up to date on constitutional matters. I say we should grab at this opportunity, and the fertile ground on which our rangatahi walk. We should invest more energy into educating rangatahi on the Treaty and how we will deal with these issues as we go forward.

Author: Amy Dixon

Amy is in her final year at Victoria University of Wellington, completing an LLB(Hons) and BA in Psychology. She has a strong interest in public law, human rights and issues affecting Maori. She is currently the Student Director of the Wellington Community Justice Project and the Student Editor in Chief of the New Zealand Journal for Public and International Law.