Waitangi Day Speech

  • Helen Clark
Prime Minister

E nga mana, e nga reo, e nga iwi o te motu, tena koutou katoa.

Tena hoki koutou e te iwi o Te Onuku marae, i mihi mai nei, ki a matou.

My thanks go to Ngai Tahu for their invitation and welcome here today.

Our presence here at Onuku is a reminder to us all that the Treaty of Waitangi was signed not just at one place on one day but in many places on many days.

For Ngai Tahu here at Onuku that day was at the end of May in 1840. Governor Hobson despatched Major Bunbury by ship to get signatures from the eastern and southern iwi.

Bunbury did not do particularly well. Twenty-five days after leaving Russell he arrived off Akaroa with only six signatures. At Onuku on 30 May the rangitira Iwikao and Tikao signed. Across all of Ngai Tahu only seven rangitira signed.

The rest is history. As is now well known and documented, the Crown failed spectacularly to fulfil its treaty obligations to Ngai Tahu over a very long period of time.

The Crown itself took ownership over much of Ngai Tahu’s lands, leaving it as largely
a landless people. The loss of its lands was a major assault on the mana, the identity and the status of the iwi.

But from the outset Ngai Tahu kept its faith in the Treaty. Generations of Ngai Tahu sought redress under the its provisions. For generations they were knocked back, but in 1985 a new mechanism became available. The Fourth Labour Government legislated to enable Treaty claims to be made dating back to 1840.

Ngai Tahu wasted no time in re-presenting its claim. It was formally lodged in 1986, and hearings followed in 1987 and 1989. In 1991 the Waitangi Tribunal reported, very substantially in Ngai Tahu’s favour. Negotiations began and settlement was reached with legislation to enact it coming before Parliament.

Given the history of the issue and the manifest injustice which the settlement sought to redress, it was inconceivable to me that Parliament would not pass the Ngai Tahu Settlement Bill. Labour, as the major opposition party, threw its weight behind the settlement. In so doing Labour expressed its hope that, in years to come, oppositions of the future would not play politics with settlements reached in good faith between iwi and the government of the day.

Much has flowed from the Ngai Tahu settlement and the process leading to it. The iwi has been empowered to take charge of its own destiny and to invest in its future and in its people. It is a significant player in the economy of the South Island and indeed of New Zealand as a whole.

Very important to me, is the iwi’s commitment to building the capacity of its people to lead in the future. Last year 460 tertiary students of Ngai Tahu descent were assisted. Among them will be the future teachers, health professionals, community workers and business managers of the iwi. Among them, I hope, will be its philosophers and its wise men and women.

We are all aware that the Treaty settlement process has not always received a good press. We are all aware that there are still some in our country who seek to deride and question it. All I can say is that common justice demands that the settlement process continues, and that the positive outcomes achieved by Ngai Tahu are indeed a beacon of hope for others going through that process.

Elsewhere many are yet to settle. There are some difficulties in determining who has a mandate to settle. Our new government will have to work in good faith to resolve those issues.

But there are also other steps we must take to honour the treaty. While the 1990s saw some action to honour Article Two, the widening of the economic and social gaps between Maori and other New Zealanders undermined Article Three. And so in the first years of this twenty-first century and third millennium, our policies must also embrace the spirit of Article Three and work to close those appalling gaps. That is why I am establishing a new cabinet committee to focus on these issues.

The task before us is huge. There is a legacy of entrenched poverty, of second and third generation unemployment and under-employment, of poor health, bad housing, and low educational achievement. Turning that around will not be easy or quick, but we have to make a start in the interests of all New Zealanders.

Maori and Pacific peoples are a very fast growing proportion of our population. It is in everyone’s interests that all can share in the common citizenship that is our right in this country.

This year we mark the 160th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. For much of that 160 year period the Treaty was for Pakeha, largely a forgotten document. Settlers arrived in their many tens of thousands, and Maori became even more of a minority in their own land. The Treaty was honoured more in the breach than in the observance by governments. Certainly in my childhood and teenage years the Treaty did not figure prominently in our school curriculum or in any public debate.

All that was to change dramatically in the 1970s. The establishment of the Waitangi Tribunal was a small step forward. But I think, looking back, it was the land march and then the protest at Bastion Point, which forced Treaty issues on to the public agenda. Treaty issues have been controversial, but as a nation I hope we continue to have the courage and the wisdom to deal with them.

Waitangi Day itself presents the opportunity to reflect on the nation we have been, and to dream of the nation which we could be. Our nation of today in effect began, with the signing of that Treaty. It was signed so that two very different peoples could co-exist in one country. And one way or another we have. But we have changed a lot along the way. Many, many peoples now make up New Zealand, and all bring to it the richness of their cultures, heritage, and languages as well. We have a challenge to celebrate that multiculturalism on the foundation of our biculturalism. Sir Tipene’s wise words on the distinction between those who are here because of the Treaty and those who are here by right of the Treaty should be heeded.

In the end, Waitangi Day, for me, is a day when we can celebrate our nationhood. We can acknowledge the upside and the downside. We can take pride in the progress we have made and we can resolve to do better in the future.

I know that so often in the past Waitangi Day has brought images of discord and disunity and not of unity and common purpose. In years gone by there has been good reason for that when the Treaty was so marginalised. As recently as 1995 the concept of the fiscal envelope for claims roused much anger in Maoridom.

But I would like this millennium year to give us the opportunity to make a fresh start and to see the focus of Waitangi Day and surrounding days move to include all New Zealanders in a celebration of the richness and talents which make up our country today.

This weekend I have had an opportunity to do just that. I was yesterday at Turangawaewae, with many thousands of others, enthralled by the dazzling performances of kapa haka groups from all over New Zealand, who blend the traditional and the contemporary in their presentations.

I was able to celebrate the Chinese New Year for the Year of the Dragon with many thousands in the Chinese community in Auckland.

In Marlborough, on Friday night, I opened a wonderful exhibition of local artists’ work. Tonight I will be in Auckland to see the Warriors in the first big league match of the season, and I will take your good wishes to them for the game against Melbourne. So much is happening that is positive across our communities.

Waitangi Day has the capacity to draw us together, rather than driving us apart. Our people have a yearning to move on, put things right and accentuate the positive. That is the challenge before us in the twenty-first century. Central to that challenge will be the further steps we take to honour the Treaty, put right the wrongs of the past and build a strong basis for our communities to continue to live and work alongside each other.

No reira,
Tena koutou
Tena koutou
Tena koutou katoa