Thursday, March 28, 2013

Denis Hampton: Orange Treaty book a lemon

It is now generally accepted that the true Treaty of Waitangi is Te Tiriti (the Maori version). However if this document is to have ongoing significance we must be certain of what those early good folk had in mind when they made their marks. In my quest for a better understanding, I recently acquired a copy of Claudia Orange's The Treaty of Waitangi. According to Wikipedia this book “has become a definitive reference for interpreting the relevance” of the treaty.

My first impressions were very favourable. As is obvious in the book's references and bibliography, the author has drawn from a very wide range of primary sources, notably early correspondence collections and government reports.

My high hopes, however, were short-lived. In her introduction the author stated that “the Maori were guaranteed full rights of ownership of their lands, forests, fisheries and other prized possessions.” As even a quick look makes clear, there is nothing about forests and fisheries in Te Tiriti.

I then wondered what the author would have made of the word 'taonga' in Te Tiriti. I assumed she would have spent some time in researching its 1840 meaning.

In her copious notes, however, I found no mention of Kendall and Lee's 1820 vocabulary, the Williams' 1844 dictionary or Frederick Maning's account of old New Zealand. Had she checked these, she would have learnt that taonga were simply goods, property, things, chattels, or in modern parlance – stuff! (Note: Some may have been treasures, but this is a secondary meaning).

Claudia Orange, however, has relied on others for translation. On page 250 of her book (1987 edition) she talks of the Waitangi Tribunal's report on the Maori Language Claim. The 'taonga' guaranteed by article two of the treaty, the report noted, had incorporated the Maori language, because taonga included intangible as well as tangible things! She also noted that the Tribunal's terms of reference included the task of determining the treaty's meaning and intent.

As is becoming increasingly clear, the Waitangi Tribunal relies a lot more on wishful thinking than solid research. Yet it continues have the Government, its departments and agencies firmly in its grip.

I would have expected better of Claudia Orange though. By not independently researching the meaning of Te Tiriti she has badly let her readers down. For those wanting this vital information her book is indeed a lemon.


Mike Butler said...

The problem of treaty interpretation starts with Section 5 of the Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975, which says the Waitangi Tribunal "shall have exclusive authority to determine the meaning and effect of the treaty as embodied in the 2 texts and to decide issues raised by the differences between them".

Anonymous said...

Never let the truth interfere with a good story....I believe that's the waitangi tribunals motto

Anonymous said...

The question remains as to how relevant is the Waitangi Tribunal? Far to many decisions and comments show an unacceptably low level of historical knowledge. There is an increasing level of distrust and disrespect for the Tribunal. That makes it redundant.

Anonymous said...

The Constitution Advisory Panel intend to advise that The Treaty of Waitangi be enshrined as the basis of a new written constitution that they will recommend to Government.
It would be silly beyond belief to adopt such a recommendation about a document (or documents in its various editions)which has been argued and disagreed about, as to its original meaning, for the past 150 years.