Thursday, November 18, 2010
Mike Butler: Tribunal’s twisted history
Tribunal reports that I read large amounts of included Rekohu: A Report on Moriori and Ngati Mutunga Claims in the Chatham Islands, He Maunga Rongo: The Report on the Central North Island Claims, Te Tau Ihu o te Waka a Maui: Report on Northern South Island Claims, Te Whanganui a Tara me ona Takiwa: Report on the Wellington District, Te Urewera report, and Turanga Tangata Turanga Whenua: The Report on the Turanganui a Kiwa Claims
An example of the contrasting treatment of history is the siege and battle of Ngatapa Pa from December 1868 to January 1869. The following account is from James Cowan’s The New Zealand Wars and the Pioneering Period (1) published in 1922, which is based on Maori and European oral sources, and from Samuel Deighton’s letters.
Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Turuki escapes from custody on the Chatham Islands in July 1868, refuses to surrender to Turanga resident magistrate Reginald Biggs, attacks a government force at Paparatu killing two, loses eight in a battle at Te Koneke, kills six government fighters at Ruakituri River where he is wounded in the foot, kills about 60 at Matawhero (Maori and settlers, including Biggs), and was chased by government forces (settlers, Ngati Porou, and others) eventually to Ngatapa Pa.
The initial attack on Ngatapa Pa by government forces on December 3, 1868, was unsuccessful. A siege ensued and further attacks on December 24 and January 3, 1869, resulted in Te Kooti’s forces fleeing, leaving only women and helpless wounded men. Government Ngati Porou and Arawa fighters chased Te Kooti’s fleeing forces. Te Kooti and his immediate followers escaped, but had lost half his fighting force -- 136 killed, with 120 executed after capture. Government forces had 11 killed and 11 wounded.
Such was war in the mid-19th century. The victors won and the defeated lost. Maori customary practice was to chase and kill the losers, and that was what Ngati Porou and Arawa fighters did.
The Waitangi Tribunal’s Turanga Tangata Turanga Whenua: The Report on the Turanganui a Kiwa Claims revises the event. The report accepts that Te Kooti’s forces killed 29-34 settlers and children of dual descent on the first night of the Matawhero attack, and 20-40 Maori subsequently in the area, but provides a justification for the attack by arguing that Biggs had settled on disputed land and the Crown had forcibly acquired the iconic Rongowhakata meeting house. (2) The report describes a withdrawal by Te Kooti to Ngatapa Pa, omits to mention the attacks by government forces on December 3 and 24, describes the escape by pa defenders, and says that it is possible that some of those killed by government forces in the pursuit were in fact Te Kooti’s prisoners. (3)
The report questions the legality of the imprisonment of Te Kooti and other prisoners on the Chatham Islands in terms of laws at that time and treaty principles, proposes that if they were illegally detained, the prisoners therefore had the right to free themselves, and questions whether the Crown had the right, according to treaty principles, to attack and subdue such ex-prisoners before and after the Matawhero attack, and whether the Crown’s action at Ngatapa were “reasonable in the circumstances and consistent with treaty principles”.
So history is twisted, and the new history is repeated in the popular press. Such pop history popped up in a sidebar to an innocuous piece entitled “High country retreat”. The intro to a piece headlined “Ngatapa massacre”, says that “The Ngatapa Pa site was the scene of a massacre now described as being part of one of the darkest stains on New Zealand’s colonial past. In the early hours of January 5, 1869, over 50 people, mainly women and children, were killed after sheltering on the hilltop from Crown forces.” (4)
Therefore, as a result of substantial reinterpretation, the Government forces that were recorded the early 20th century as fighting escaped prisoners who were waging a guerrilla guerilla campaign, have been transformed, by the early 21st century, into killers of women and children.
This is one of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of events in New Zealand’s brief history that have been twisted beyond recognition in Waitangi Tribunal reports.
The new history can be readily absorbed by a population that is largely ignorant of history, especially our own. In fact, New Zealand is unique in that history is not explicitly taught to all students. This means that many have little grasp of key aspects of our past. Students today study less New Zealand history at school than they did in the past. By contrast, in the 1966 School Certificate history syllabus at least a third of the 18 topics examined each year were New Zealand topics. (5)
Politicians share in this widespread historical ignorance, which means they are unprepared to critically assess tribunal reports. Each report comes with a summary. Most would read the summary which outlines the tribunal’s recommendations, they probably look at the 1000-2000 page report and think “OMG, so many pages, it must be true”, and sign it off as a claim worth paying out on.
Each settlement has to be approved by a majority in parliament, but once the deed of settlement is signed, and if the ruling party has the numbers, it is a done deal. The select committee process is window dressing, with public criticism routinely ignored. Worse, often MPs with a close association with recipients of the proposed settlement remain sitting on the select committee when they should stand aside because of the perceived conflict of interest.
There has been little discussion or critical analysis of tribunal reports by the mainstream media. Reporters generally regurgitate the treaty negotiation minister’s bland press releases without much comment. Lack of analysis could be attributed to the general ignorance of things historical already discussed.
Neither is there much comment from history professors. Their silence cannot be attributed to ignorance of history. Therefore, they must be generally OK with the whole Waitangi Tribunal process, or they don’t want to put their livelihoods at risk by any unpopular outbursts.
The Waitangi Tribunal can only hear claims concerning Maori grievances. Overlooked are grievances numerous settlers had against the New Zealand Company, mostly because they paid good money for land that in many cases they could not take possession of.
The subject of my book, Samuel Deighton, came to New Zealand with his brother, Richard, each bearing a land order that their father had paid £100 each. The sum of £100 was equivalent to about a year and a half of wages for a laborer in their hometown, Cambridge, at that time. New Zealand Company officials were selling land orders in England before the company had acquired any land in New Zealand, without considering that the people they sold the land orders to would quite likely have to fight for the land they believed they had bought. Both brothers had to fight for their survival in Wanganui, and again in Wairoa.
History is not bunk, as Henry Ford would have us think. While we try to live in the present, our brief history is pressing down on us and is costing us dearly. The historians who stood mildly by while 19th century New Zealand history was reinterpreted according to 20th century treaty principles have trashed their credibility. The government-paid officials who use this ideological history to justify the transfer of millions of dollars in cash, vast swathes of land, commercial buildings and so on to small private corporations dotted around the country in the name of healing the past are simply contemptible.
On that last point, some things never change. In the 19th century, chiefs freely sold land they had some claim to and pocketed the cash -- to hell with their people. Today, iwi leaders receive the cash and pay themselves substantial salaries -- again, poverty among their people remains the responsibility of Work and Income.
The good people of New Zealand are too accepting and accommodating. If this was happening in France, buses would be burning and more than a few windows in the capital would be smashed.
1. Cowan, James, The New Zealand Wars and the Pioneering Period, Volume 2, R.E. Owen, Government Printer, New Zealand, 1955 reprint
2. Turanga Tangata Turanga Whenua: The Report on the Turanganui a Kiwa Claims Chapter 5, Te Kooti and the Whakarau, Waitangi Tribunal, http://www.waitangi-tribunal.govt.nz/scripts/reports/reports/814/9A4F084E-B560-4C0E-9740-F2C48C8D7BF7.pdf
3. Ibid, p171
4. See “Ngatapa massacre” http://www.haurata.co.nz/20-22.pdf
5. Mark Sheehan, “The role of school history”, New Zealand History Online, http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/classroom/the-classroom/teachers-toolbox/the-role-of-school-history
at 9:43 PM