Native Affairs tried to host a debate on Monday night on the Littlewood Treaty, on New Zealand’s “alternative history” and on groups critical of the treaty industry. What this state-funded television service delivered was a two-on-one ambush featuring Mana Party candidate Annette Sykes and Maori TV presenter Mihingarangi Forbes against Treatygate blogger John Ansell.
If the debate was an attempt to show that Maori TV was making a genuine effort to present other viewpoints, as is required in broadcasting, staff there need some guidance. The two-on-one harangue was framed by an anti-Titford tirade by Reading the Maps blogger Scott Hamilton plus a repeat of comments by grievance specialist Ranginui Walker, who spoke on the previous week’s feature on the same subject titled “What lies beneath”.
Forbes’ goal appeared to be to get Ansell to apologise to Te Roroa, the group that occupied Northland farmer Allan Titford’s land in from 1987 and forced the government to buy his farm and give part of it to them, for accusing them of burning down the Titford family home. No apology was forthcoming.
The debate enabled Ansell to say on air that the previous week he gave Native Affairs evidence of a deathbed confession by Titford’s father-in-law to burning down the Titford house, which would have “a huge bearing on Allan Titford’s guilt. Reporter Iulia Leilua ignored that evidence.
Forbes said: “what that says is that someone from the Titford clan burned down the house but it wasn’t Te Roroa”. Ansell pointed out that it was a father-in-law, not a Titford.
The televised debate, titled “Tall Tales”, continued the theme captured in the previous week’s title “What lies beneath”, and repeated by blogger Hamilton, that Titford supporters are “pakeha New Zealanders living in rural areas” who are “insecure about their identity and ownership of the soil” who are “pushing to re-write New Zealand’s history and reject Maori claims as tangata whenua” and push an “alternative version of the treaty known as the Littlewood Treaty”.
Sykes said such people “really need to confront their racism” adding that “the Waitangi Tribunal will assist them. If they cared to read the reports, and there’s voluminous reports, they will see that there has been careful analysis of these documents and a reconciliation in the outcomes recorded in that history”.
The bad news for Sykes is that the tribunal reports are not history. The seven reports that I have read weave the details of history around treaty principles to create persuasive arguments that carefully justify whatever is claimed. As Ansell told the debate, “the Waitangi Tribunal kangaroo court . . . always finds in favour of their own people”.
Since Sykes presents herself as a treaty lawyer it was interesting to see her describe the Littlewood Treaty as a document that “emerged on the 17th of February ” despite being confirmed as handwritten by British Resident James Busby dated February 4, 1840, and that it may have been an “interpretive aid” for United States consul to help Pomare II find out “the English interpretation of the treaty”.
But when Ansell agreed that the Maori-language Te Tiriti was the only treaty that had any credence, and when he added that “if you want to know what the Maori text says you look at the Busby February 4 document”, Sykes snapped “No you don’t. You look at the English version, and you look at what was said by Maori at the time, then you look at what commentators said at the time”.
Sykes probably has never read the Busby document or compared it to Te Tiriti for if she had she would have seen only four differences between the two texts -- two in the preamble, one in article three, and the date at the bottom. With few fluent in Maori it is in the treatyists’ interests that the Maori text remains a mystery because it is easier for new self-serving meanings to be breathed into it.
If Sykes had seen the first part of the feature, she would have seen researcher Martin Doutre say of the Littlewood treaty:
You ask any of our leading academics and they will say that the final draft of the treaty in English went missing in February 1840. But it was definitely found again in 1989 by the Littlewood family in Pukekohe. This document of unification, this great gift that has been given to us got turned into a document of apartheid after 1975 by all of this interference with it and all this reinterpretation which has led on to the reinvention of a lot of our history as well.Forbes did say that four other people who either appeared or were mentioned in the previous week’s programme were invited to appear on the debate but all declined. The heavily biased intro to this debate, talking over Ansell while he was making a point, and hectoring him into apologizing to Te Roroa when he has never said anything against them illustrates what those who declined to appear already knew – that they would never get a fair hearing on Maori TV.