Dame Claudia Orange, PhD, DNZM, OBE, CRSNZ, Honorary Research Fellow at the Museum of NZ Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington
Speaking with charming and erudite Dame Claudia Orange about Te Tiriti and the Path to Nationhood is like opening an encyclopedia on the history of our country.
You have spent 30+ years researching, investigating and writing about Te Tiriti o Waitangi. You have discussed the ‘evolving understanding’ of the Treaty. Please provide us with some history, and what this means today.
“Excitingly there is a new book on the shelves this week about The Treaty that is much easier to read than the first edition in 1989 and subsequent editions up until 2020. I hope that readers will be as delighted with it as I am to publish it!
Now to ‘evolving understanding…’ He Whakaputanga, the declaration of independence made by Maori in 1835, and then the signing of the Treaty in 1840, extended the understanding of Maori that they were forming a new agreement with Britain that would become the basis of shared authority in New Zealand.
It signaled a remarkable shift because the Maori chiefs first signed the declaration as the agreement being made at the time was needed. Officially recognised by the United Kingdom, it heralded the emergence of Māori authority on the world stage. It was also one of the earliest assertions of Māori identity beyond separate iwi and hapū.
Unfortunately, the British government respected the declaration only for five years. When George Grey was appointed governor of New Zealand in 1845 he appeared to honor the Treaty and Maori rights and was reported to enjoy great mana among Maori. However, it was not until 1975 and the Treaty of Waitangi Act and setting up of the Waitangi Tribunal that governments began to realise that the original agreement on which constitutional authority was based was sorely lacking in rights for Maori.
By 1985 The Tribunal had authority to investigate claims back to 1840. This started to open up the country and unpack our history. And this continues, because researchers and academics like myself started to write history. This means today that increasingly our understanding has evolved and what we have now is the challenge that Maori is making to us: how do we share authority and decision-making right through all significant areas of tangata whenua.”
Is New Zealand in a good place when it comes to the Settlement process?
“Yes it is, but after we secure all settlements and look again at the seashore, which is going through claim processes, when all of that is done we still have the importance of relationships.
Former Attorney General and Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations, Chris Finlayson KC stated in a recent article when asked about co-governance: ‘Getting a clear definition of co-governance is very important. People say co-governance should really be ‘co-management’. The US Ambassador recently asked me if co-governance is similar to joint management arrangements. It is. I said it is not an opportunity to micromanage the officials’ work, but a chance to set priorities and to have a say in how to manage resources. Avoid labels.’
Chris’s aim is to reset the balance of Maori and Pakeha through the settlements, and we are moving forward towards that.”
Do New Zealanders understand our history and what the Treaty means for Maori and Pakeha, as well as we might?
“Many New Zealanders live away from the country and we’ve all gone through schooling that didn’t teach us about the Treaty, however, now it is being taught in schools and young people will eventually talk and debate and share the stories from the past. Not just the stories from their whakapapa or their British ancestry, but the stories of this land. We hope that adults will keep reading. My new book is a much more straightforward one to read and understand! You can pop it in your bag! Look at the final chapter as I kept on writing after the 2020 book came out, and if you think you know it all, look at the partnership.”
What is your response to the Path to Nationhood question; what could a better New Zealand look like?
“We could firmly establish the Three Ps: Partnership, Participation and Protection. What we are looking at now is the extension of power-sharing in a huge range of areas. Most tricky recently has been Three Waters. We need to talk these things through – how to share a partnership and understanding based on the Maori text of the Treaty. Forget about co-governance and focus on power-sharing. Power-sharing and authority with Maori, with an open-mindedness and a new mindset. Over time, our young people will come through with their knowledge. As Eleanor Roosevelt wisely put it: ‘The world of the future is in our making. Tomorrow is now.’ ”
You are discovering that many more wahine signed the Treaty than was originally thought. Has this, or will this, change the status of Maori wahine today in terms of leadership and recognition?
“ There are signatures by at least 12 women; there could be 16 or more who signed. Continuing research at universities and elsewhere of hapu and whakapapa have found that more wahine signed. Victorian England didn’t have the same mana as wahine Maori had; women in England couldn’t own property. However, when Maori women married Pakeha they lost their rights and mana and whakapapa.
Inevitably, whatever occupation wahine have, they will develop their sense of leadership and confidence having been a significant part of the agreement made in 1840 and in an ongoing sense, as our constitutional balance. Some iwi feel uneasy about Maori women speaking on the marae; it is their tikanga. Jacinda Ardern was the first. Recently deceased Titewhai Harawera was from Nga Puhi, and only when she and other wahine came forward at Te Tii Waitangi was there grumbling from the men!
Hinerangi Himiona is a key player in bringing the Treaty and the Declaration out of the archives, and she is still working on it. It’s time for Maori, and the rest of us, to compromise and adjust.”
Is Global Women positioned appropriately to support the Treaty as we moved towards 2040 and the 200th anniversary? How can we support women and their Treaty rights?
“Yes – Women must support women. If the members of Global Women have a good grasp of the facts of the Treaty and take the opportunity with Maori to understand the situation, our biases can be challenged. Sometimes we don’t realise that we have unspoken biases and assumptions that don’t help Maori women. This is very important to recognise in business. Seize opportunities for the wahine to advance and if they’re not quite ready, still give them a chance; provide important skills like training and leadership. We must continue to march forward.
I’m 84 and semi-retired now. I wear a gold chain around my neck which used to hold my father’s (Monty Bell) watch. He was trained by Sir Apirana Ngata. Whina Cooper’s husband, Bill, was a great friend of my Dad. She was my role model. Whina used to call Dad and I could hear her voice across the telephone, it was very distinctive! If she could do the Hikoi at 79, I can keep going with my research! I feel very blessed.
Keith Sinclair, one of my supervisors when I did my PhD, was quite insistent that I learn te reo. I’m so glad as I have translation capacity but would like to use my retirement years to do a full immersion course online. We can all do this if we wish, to further our knowledge.
People get frustrated at an event when the welcome is in te reo; they feel shut out. If we understand the language we could understand the situations better. Te reo is a difficult language to learn; it’s quite different from English and other Latin-based languages. You don’t have to become fluent, just gain some comprehension.
It’s exciting that Global Women is having their Hui at Waitangi in May. I very much hope to come, but my dear husband has had a stroke and needs constant care. Sharing koreros with many of you will lift our spirits and our understanding of Te Tiriti and what it means for Aotearoa New Zealand, and all of us.”
Nga mihi nui, Dame Claudia, for your dedication and mahi.
All interviews and stories written by our Editor in Residence, Jenni Prisk (Global Women Member)