Speech to Constitutional Kōrero conference

Māori Development

Our Evolving Sense of Nationhood – Me Anga Whakamua

Indigenous Futures and New Zealand’s Constitution

Tuia ki runga, Tuia ki raro,

Tuia te here tangata, Mai i te wheiao ki te ao mārama

Ka rongo te pō ka rongo te āo! Tīhei Mauri Ora!

Kei ngā miro o te ao whānui, nau mai rarau mai, Tūrou Hawaīki!

E aro nei tātou ki ngā kaupapa i te rangi nei,

me te karanga atu ki ngā tōpito e whā o te ao, ka whakaaro ake;

Mā wai te tī, mā wai te tā, mā wai he matakahi māire ka whewhera?

No reira kei ngā rangatira a ngā iwi taketake kua koha mai i a koutou whakaaro nui ki ngā kaupapa hei whakatau i tēnei marae kōrero, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.


I want to start by acknowledging all our manuhiri tuārangi, wherever you may be joining us from.

To our event organisers: Te Rākai Ture, the University of Auckland,  Dr Claire Charteris and your team. Also to Ngāti Whātua me ngā mātāwaka kei Tamaki Makaurau, fellow panelists and participants -  tēnā anō tātou!

Thank you for inviting me to open the second day of wānanga and for the opportunity to learn from the experience of speakers from Aotearoa and across the world.

Living in Challenging Times

When I consider the effects of a global pandemic, growing crisis and conflict, the fragility of democratic societies, the existential challenge of climate change that will re-frame how we consider our mere existence –  this context moves us further towards the need to have ‘different’ conversations, uncomfortable and new conversations.

I understand that, is the purpose of this wānanga. In my opening comments I drew on a saying to rally warriors getting ready for battle – the call goes out “Who is ready? Ready to take the first strike, the second strike and then to be like the māire and wedge open our target?”.

Metaphorically speaking, your intellect and experience will shape the considerations regarding constitutional settings and where indigenous perspectives might guide the general discourse within our countries. There is no right answer to how this objective is achieved.

Even though, as indigenous peoples we share similar historical impacts of colonisation, even though we may share a similar destination, how we get there may be slightly different – and that’s okay.

The Treaty of Waitangi: defining for Aotearoa New Zealand

It has been an intrepid journey for this nation to bring forward and hold present the aspirations of our foundational agreement, in a way that reflects what was envisaged by ancestors who signed it. By 2040, Aotearoa will mark 200 years since the signing of the Treaty and the partnership intended between the Crown and Māori.

In many ways, that milestone moment will act as a health check for our young nation.

And if we reflect on where we Aotearoa has arrived on our journey, there remains significant ambition as this country moves forward. The strengths and achievement of Aotearoa New Zealand have been born out of all of us working together to create the country we are today.

When I say working together in the context of Government, Māori and broader society, I recognise there has been tension and conflict throughout the years and an encyclopedia full of lessons for all to reflect on. But learn we must or we are doomed to repeat age old mistakes.

Those same principles of partnership and mutual respect embodied in the Treaty, provide the foundation for our evolving constitutional arrangements. The progressive evolution of our constitutional arrangements strengthen our ability to take account of an ever changing world.

In our globally connected environment, we are seeing where the international rules-based system is being challenged. The UN charter must evolve in recognition of this stark reality.

In the Pacific, we are observing an increasingly contested region. There are a range of forces at play that are disrupting social cohesion and the trust people have in the institutions that serve them.

It is into this environment that we are seeing growing confidence from the world’s Indigenous Peoples to express their voice. Internationally the recent, albeit unsuccessful, referendum on a new constitution in Chile and Australia’s recommitment to the Uluru Statement from the Heart and an Indigenous voice in Parliament are signs of a global push to realise Indigenous self-determination.

At home, there has been a consistent call for constitutional transformation, and a call for a debate on the place of Te Tiriti and suggestions of a Treaty referendum.

Sadly against this backdrop, there remains a fear-driven view that seeks to prevent, wind-back and dial down the mere notion of rangatiratanga and mana motuhake perspectives.

But as the saying goes ‘you cannot stop an idea whose time has come.’ That is why our best minds participating and contributing to the constitutional dialogue will shed light on these matters.

There is a lot of noise and disinformation going around but no in-depth discussion about how we organise our relationships with each other and how we make them enduring through our approach in formalising our constitutional arrangements, a sense of democratic norms that help shape our sense of nationhood.

This may mean addressing some uncomfortable issues, such as the ongoing impact of colonisation, but we are mature enough to have this kōrero and indeed consider options to bring about change.

We understand that a societal culture based on shared understanding, the blending of different perspectives, diversity of thought and actions taken towards nation-building are important building blocks for peace and prosperity.

Embracing differing world views can assist to address the complex issues of social exclusion, civil and racial unrest, inequity and poverty. Outcomes will be stronger and more enduring if they are built through dialogue, shared understanding, and taking account of a range of diverse perspectives.

Let me briefly highlight some of the gains I believe have been achieved since our government has come into office.

On 24th June, we celebrated this nation’s first ever ‘Matariki’ public holiday. Celebrating Matariki on a national scale recognises the Māori worldview through the lunar calendar and our country’s growing recognition of mātauranga Māori. This work was built around genuine respect for Matariki mātauranga, te ao Māori, and a strong commitment to the Māori / Crown relationship.

As you’ll all know, we have dedicated Māori seats in the House of Representatives and Māori seats in local government bodies. Recent changes to government legislation allow councils to decide on whether to include Māori wards in their arrangements. And at the most recent local elections, 35 councils voted to elect Māori wards or constituencies. These representation measures exist alongside the self-government and control by tribes of their own political institutions and traditional governing measures.

The Government supports Indigenous business connections through Indigenous-led, Government-supported Collaboration Agreements. In August this year, a new Indigenous Collaboration Arrangement between Aotearoa New Zealand and Canada was signed, to improve outcomes for indigenous peoples and to enhance indigenous to indigenous relationships.

These promote economic, social and cultural advancements while creating indigenous-to-indigenous trade and other collaboration opportunities. These agreements facilitate relationships between Indigenous groups outside of government agencies and provide us with a chance to share our respective personal experiences.

A tikanga Māori tertiary education reform is currently underway and consideration is being given to legislative changes to reflect the way these entities can operate independently of mainstream tertiary institutes, and following their own tikanga. 

I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about Te Pae Tawhiti, the whole-of-government response to the protection and promotion of mātauranga Māori, our traditional knowledge. The Government recognises that mātauranga Māori is a central component of te ao Māori and is vital to Aotearoa New Zealand’s national identity.

We are working with Te Taumata Whakapūmau, the representative rōpū of the original Wai 262 claimants, and Te Kahu Aronui, the Māori expert technicians group, to devise the best ways to enable active protection and appropriate use of mātauranga Māori. This is a very complex kaupapa that stretches across many disciplines and requires a range of solutions.

As a few examples, we are looking at developing a domestic biodiscovery regime, a Māori-Crown partnership-based system for mātauranga Māori, strengthening Māori involvement in international agreement-making and active protection and appropriate use of mātauranga Māori through an intellectual property system.

In the research, science and innovation (RSI) space, a reform of our RSI system called Te Ara Paerangi - Future Pathways is currently underway. Te Ara Paerangi – Future Pathways seeks to place Te Tiriti at the centre of the reform process to build an RSI system that enables Māori, as equally as others, to pursue their values and interests.

Embedding Te Tiriti in the RSI system would mark a step change in honouring our Te Tiriti obligations and opportunities.

All these initiatives will strengthen and protect the unique culture and identity of Aotearoa, recognise the inherent value of mātauranga Māori and ultimately change the landscape in Aotearoa.

This is a long-standing debate: can transformation be achieved through incremental and practical steps or do we need radical constitutional transformation?

The late Moana Jackson, one of our most influential thought leaders, said “incrementalism is stasis.” This highlights the contrast between his and the Government’s approach. Moana was very strong in his belief that constitutional transformation, i.e., changing the way in which this country is governed and the way in which political decisions are made, was essential to “reconstructing the colonising society and demolishing the imbalances in power.”

He had a very gentle way of delivering powerful statements and described constitutional transformation as being about “returning to the kind of relationship that Te Tiriti o Waitangi originally envisaged — that Māori would continue to exercise an independent authority, but necessarily engage in an interdependent relationship with those who have come here since 1840.”

When you put it this way, it is not an unreasonable expectation. The question is how is this best achieved? And how is an environment best created to bring all of Aotearoa along the journey? Change will happen, the question is how will it happen?

Mā wai te tī, mā wai te tā, mā wai he matakahi māire ka whewhera?

While it may all start with a small number of ideas and people wanting to see change, if it is to be successful it will need to gain a strong social license. Constitutional change is an idea whose time has come, in many ways there is an inevitability to that ambition.

So I ask you to consider how do we move our respective nations forward? That is the challenge.

Pai Mārire ki a tātou katoa.