New Zealand legislation has this curious definition: “Maori means a person of the Maori race of New Zealand; and includes any descendant of such a person.”[i]
The definition is circular and unhelpful. It is insidious insofar as it perpetuates racial discrimination in New Zealand indefinitely.
“If there’s no meaning in it,” said the King, “that saves a world of trouble, you know, as we needn’t try to find any.”[ii]
Putting aside legal definitions and tautology, let us consider someone who considers himself a Maori: Cabinet Minister Kelvin Davis.
In the New Zealand Herald for 3 March 2023, Audrey Young reports on Davis “trying to tell Aussies how NZ’s 1840 deal works”.
As reported, Davis said about the Treaty of Waitangi: “We are in it together and we’re in it together for good and forever. And so we must make it work.”
That of course is a nonsense, because the Treaty did its work when it was signed in 1840. Regrettably though, those who fail to see and respect the remarkable win-win nature of the Treaty are determined to invert it and turn back time more than 180 years.
I do wonder what Kelvin’s thoughts might have been when “compere and Aboriginal journalist Dan Conifer referred to twenty “Blackfellas” from Australia and New Zealand addressing the conference.”[iii] After all, Kelvin himself has said he was ‘a very pale skinned green-eyed, blonde-haired person”.[iv] But never mind that. Kelvin[v] sees himself as a Maori. But “blackfella”??. C’mon Dan – whom do you think your are kidding?
But back to Kelvin ...
Evidently he has non-Maori ancestry. None-the-less what seems to be most important to him is his Maori ancestry. Why? Were the others such bad people? Or is it simply expediency?
As reported:[vi] “Davis recounted how his ancestor, Whetoi Pomare, signed the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 but within five years, he had been imprisoned without trial, and his tribe’s land plundered.”
Aha, that’s interesting! Whetoi Pomare? Actually, there were two of them.
Episodes from the career of the first were that:
“Whetoi Pomare 1 of Ngapuhi, in 1822, led a strong expedition against Ngati Awa and Ngati Pukeko settlements in the Bay of Plenty. They captured many prisoners and returned to the Bay of Islands laden with spoils, including a number of preserved heads destined for the European market. (Our emphasis)
“Early in 1826 Pomare led 220 warriors from the Piako River overland to Horotiu and up the Waipa River. The Waikatos were ready for them at Te Rore and surprised the Ngapuhi while they were still in their canoes, Pomare and all but a handful of his men being killed. After the battle Pomare's body was cooked and eaten by the victors.”[vii] Perhaps a just fate – but typical enough in those days.
So that one cannot be Kelvin’s ancestor who signed the treaty but his grandfather, maybe? It does looks probable that he was thus an ancestor of Kelvin too – one to be proud of?
Now for Whetoi Pomare II, Kelvin’s ancestor who did sign the Treaty but, according to Kelvin, “within five years, he had been imprisoned without trial, and his tribe’s land plundered.” This must refer to “Heke’s War” of 1844-6 when some Ngapuhi chiefs, disgruntled at the loss of trade in the Bay of Islands when the national capital was transferred to Auckland, committed a variety of rebellious acts. These included the celebrated fall of the flagstaff under Heke’s axe and the attack on Kororareka or Russell as it became, saved in the nick of time by loyal Ngapuhi chiefs notably the outstanding Tamati Waka Nene. It is of course disingenuous for Kelvin to make the statements above. Pomare was a rebel against the Government of New Zealand which had been established upon the signing of the Treaty. It is also disingenuous to ignore the sequel. Soon after his arrest, he was released on the advice of Tamati Waka Nene. He then switched sides purportedly to campaign against Heke but then withdrew.[viii]
Warfare was of course the natural way of life for such as Pomare. Inveigled by the well-meaning but ineffectual Busby and tempted by his second cauldron of porridge[ix] into doing so, Pomare had signed Busby’s “Declaration of Independence” and Titore, also of Ngapuhi, did likewise but warfare soon broke out amongst the rival parties. “The cause was the usual tangled and obscure series of events in Maori politics. ... The result was a full-scale inter-tribal[x] war that boiled around Northland for almost four months. ... Titore’s ... assault on Pomare’s pa involved 800 warriors transported by forty-two war canoes.”[xi]
The war “only ended ... when the various sides in the conflict had become ... exhausted by the battles ... and when [its] futility ... finally dawned on them.”[xii] Titore had died, probably from wounds.
“The Confederation of United Tribes that Busby had invented was finished.”[xiii]
So why, we ask, does the so-called “Declaration of Independence” of this ephemeral “confederation” have such an honoured place in the National Library of New Zealand, prominently featured along with the actual Treaty document and petition for women’s suffrage, in a display said to have cost the New Zealand taxpayer more that $7 million?
One can only conclude that this is government-inspired propaganda designed to give the people of New Zealand a false idea of their country’s history.
One may accept that Davis is entitled to feel proud of such an ancestor as Pomare II but in reality the pre-Treaty era in which he was so active was nothing but a continuation of the chronic inter-tribal warfare and its associated savagery which had gone on for centuries. A major effect of the Treaty of Waitangi was that it protected the warring tribes from themselves.
At the end of his life, perhaps cynically and perhaps under the benevolent influence of Pax Britannica against which he had railed for so long, Pomare II lived peacefully until his death in 1850.
And what of Kelvin’s other ancestors in colonial times? Were they wicked white colonials who deprived the innocent Maoris of their land, their language and their culture of whom we hear so much today? Or were they decent, hard-working citizens who did their fair share in creating a modern state of which he – and we – may justly be proud? It would be appropriate if he were to give credit where it is due.
So we ask Kelvin: What do you really think the Treaty was about? Are your Maori ancestors good role models or simply the suppliers of genetic material to enable you to call yourself a Maori? And why is this so important to you? Why are your Maori ancestors evidently so much more important to you than your non-Maori ancestors who, after all, were in the great majority, and who perhaps in their day contributed more to our nation than the likes of Pomare II ever attempted?
Think about it.
[i] Electoral Act 1993, Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975, Maori Land Act 1993, for example.
[ii] “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, Chapter 12
[iii] As reported by Young, NZ Herald, 3/3/23
[iv] Newshub.co.nz 29/9/2022
[v] Kelvin: derived from the River Kelvin in Glasgow, Scotland. Glen: of Irish/Scottish Gaelic descent. Davis: of English/Welsh/Jewish descent.
[vi] Young, op.cit.
[vii] Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, 1966
[ix] The first being awarded to the chiefs for choosing a flag for their ships “in a ceremony little short of a farce”, M.King,”Penguin History of New Zealand”, 2003, p.153
[x] “Intra-tribal” would be more accurate since combatants on both sides were Ngapuhi
[xi] P. Moon, “Fatal Frontiers”, “Penguin”, 2006, ISBN 0-14-302059-2, pp.122-3
[xii] ibid., p.124
[xiii] ibid., p.125
Bruce Moon is a retired computer pioneer who wrote "Real Treaty; False Treaty - The True Waitangi Story".