Investigative journalist Ian Wishart has turned his attention to the treaty industry in his new book “The Great Divide: The story of New Zealand and its Treaty” at a time when a lop-sided advisory panel could enshrine “treatyism” into a written constitution.
Digitised archives, the internet, and Google searches mean written history is no longer controlled by academics, or worse, government agencies that believe they can indoctrinate generations with an authorised view of the past. Wishart has trolled through archives often 200 years old that are freely available online to let the protagonists of the past tell their story in their own words.
The result is a page-turner that tells the story of pre-Maori history, of explorers who met a sudden death, of brave missionaries, musket wars, of the beginnings of British rule, the ins and outs of the treaty, land clashes, sovereignty wars, of the role of Christianity, and implications for today. His chatty, colloquial style could and should keep a wide range of readers on the edge of a chair up to page 278.
Wishart understands Christianity so comprehends how unarmed British missionaries could dwell among and turn Maori from permanent warfare and cannibalism to God and the Queen. Signs that the missionaries may be rehabilitated can only be good, not that it would please any post-modernist academic historian.
The chapter “Waitangi’s fairytale godfathers” shreds Waitangi Tribunal arguments that chiefs did not understand what they were signing and that sovereignty was not fully ceded.
By quoting extensively from chiefs attending the 1860 Kohimarama conference, Wishart shows that 60 percent explicitly agreed with Governor Thomas Gore Browne’s summary of the treaty which says the Queen is sovereign, Maori are her subjects with the rights of subjects, including possession of property.
The considerable evidence from Kohimarama knobbles the tribunal’s argument that “despite being granted the same rights as all British citizens, Maori were supposed to remain exclusively loyal to Maori tribal structure, that New Zealand should have been governed by two hierarchies, two ‘treaty partners’, Maori and the Crown, where ordinary citizens were subjects either of the Queen or Maori leaders”.
Wishart re-states evidence that the Littlewood Treaty found in March 1989 is the lost final draft of the Maori version of the Treaty of Waitangi. The numerous differences between the official English version attached to the Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975 and the Maori text has created confusion and a fertile territory for separatists and gravy-trainers to ply their trade.
However, he presents the views of the chiefs at Kohimarama as clear ratification of the treaty as understood before the Waitangi Tribunal started re-interpreting it. Any wacky separatist notion floated by the tribunal would sink at Kohimarama.
Of interest, where Article 2 of the Littlewood text of the treaty uses the word “possession” for “tino rangatiratanga”, Wishart prefers to use “tino rangatiratanga”, despite all the confusion surrounding that term, to present the ins and outs of aboriginal title, especially how numerous chiefs desperately wanted to be able to convert their land to fee simple title to be able to move ahead with the new economy. Again, numerous speeches from chiefs at Kohimarama show exactly what they wanted, and this is completely opposite to what the Waitangi Tribunal would have us believe.
The Taranaki claim, in Wishart’s view, was an ideal stalking-horse for the Waitangi Tribunal to hang the Maori sovereignty argument on. Where the tribunal presents chief Wiremu Kingi as grossly maligned by the colonial government, Wishart shows him as duplicitous and regarded by fellow chiefs, again at Kohimarama, as clearly wrong.
Those chiefs who opposed the unity of the races under one sovereign became the Maori king movement, and the focus of the so-called Maori renaissance in the 20th century, Wishart wrote. “Their followers, however, are the ones now in charge of the Waitangi debate, the cultural gatekeepers. They are the ones who can make the majority voices from the past fall silent – their words left out of the popular history books and not quoted in universities.”
So here we are in the 21st century still fighting the 19th century sovereignty war, this time using words instead of bullets. The book is a must-read.