Members Spotlight | Path to Nationhood

2023 marks 183 years to New Zealand’s founding document – Te Tiriti o Waitangi. As we head onto it’s 200th anniversary, what does this mean for women and our bi-cultural nation?

Sharing their knowledge and experiences, Arihia Bennett and Dame Claudia Orange in their own right, guide us to envision what our future should look like with our path to nationhood.

Join us as we explore Arihia and Dame Claudia’s vision, their thoughts on how our past, present and future can path the way for women and nation of Aotearoa.

Arihia Bennett, MNZM, CEO of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu

Arihia Bennett (Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Porou, Ngāpuhi) was appointed chief executive of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu in 2012.  Her main focus is intergenerational wellbeing for the 78,000 member whānau.  This gracious wahine is humble about her leadership role. “I’m still a social worker,” she remarked in our interview.

What lead Arihia to her current CEO position?

“Te Rūnanga was created out of the Deed of Settlement in 1998. My husband Richard and I ran an ecotourism lodge on the Te Anau – Milford Highway, in partnership with the Ngāi Tahu Trust Board.  I had joined the Ngāi Tahu Development Corporation board in 1999, which carved a path to my current role.  Te Rūnanga embraces many aspects of whānau and Rūnanga wellbeing. Its purpose is to work towards the self-determination of whānau and hapu, our iwi as a whole.  We focus on achieving greater social outcomes that include economic, commercial and environmental stewardship together with education and small business opportunities for our people.”

What does Path to Nationhood mean to you for Aotearoa New Zealand?

“The Path to Nationhood in Aotearoa New Zealand insures that people have a sense of belonging, a tie to their community and to the environment, no matter who or where they are. Nationhood should embrace everybody so that all can participate, as a whole, in society.  We must also embrace the tangata whenua and tangata Te Tiriti to broaden our engagement in an inclusive way.”

How are we faring as a nation in 2023 compared to the iwi experience of, say, 20 years ago?

“If we use Whina Cooper’s examples of courage, leadership and determination of tangata whenua that are principally ensconced in the environment and society, and then look at the relevance of the treaty settlements from a personal point of view, my belief is that we are doing well, but we need to stretch and do better.”

Your roots are in Te Wai Pounamu and in Tuahiwi, where you live.  Is there a different point of view or division on the progress of Te Tiriti in Te Wai Pounamu and Ikaroa-a-Maui? Are iwi gaining ground on the recognition of their Treaty rights in the whole country?

“One of the principles as an iwi is to enable and support other iwi on their journey to self-determination. It’s not a competition or a comparison.  Co-governance is a confusing title that New Zealanders are trying to categorise by looking at boards and organisations to find representation of iwi.  The outcome should not be on the shoulders of co-governance; it should be imbued in our sense of being and be integral and interwoven as the foundation of everything we do.  Honour people, no matter who they are and what they do.

We get into a power-play.  The more we put co-governance in a bright neon sign, people fixate on what is on the sign and not what’s behind it and think we are coming in the wrong way.  Value people for who they are, what they bring, and what they represent. We should infuse this into our core decision-making nationwide.  If we did, we wouldn’t get that sense of separation of race.”

Are you seeing activation of the Treaty principles of partnership, participation and protection?

“When we talk about the principles , there’s an easy tauiwi description  of the articles (of the Treaty.)

Article 2 of Te Tiriti, the official English version states: Her Majesty the Queen of England confirms and guarantees to the Chiefs and Tribes of New Zealand and to the respective families and individuals thereof the full exclusive and undisturbed possession of their Lands and Estates Forests Fisheries and other properties which they may collectively or individually possess so long as it is their wish and desire to retain the same in their possession; but the Chiefs of the United Tribes and the individual Chiefs yield to Her Majesty the exclusive right of Preemption over such lands as the proprietors thereof may be disposed to alienate at such prices as may be agreed upon between the respective Proprietors and persons appointed by Her Majesty to treat with them in that behalf.
This Article focuses on Rangatiratanga (self-determination) and that is what we are seeing,  as Iwi settle with the Crown. Once settlements are concluded (full and final) then often Iwi spend their time and settlement funds arguing with the Crown to interpret it meaningfully. Tā Tipene O’Regan often draws attention to our Iwi as having a long-term intergenerational stance yet governments turn over every three years so how can we get continuity and consistency with an institutional memory that will stick?

Article 3 states:  In consideration thereof Her Majesty the Queen of England extends to the Natives of New Zealand Her royal protection and imparts to them all the Rights and Privileges of British Subjects.’ In other words, every New Zealander should be accorded equal rights.  In order to get there, we have to acknowledge where the inequalities and inequities exist now. Too many people say we’re equal.  But we don’t start on the same platform. As Treaty partners, with respect to Article 3, we need to find a way to move everyone up; we have an iwi responsibility to challenge the Crown.

Everything reverts to education. A lot of people are not educated about these rights; a lot of people are ignorant, and a lot of people don’t want to be educated. Take, for example, the poll about renaming our country to Aotearoa New Zealand.  58% want to stay with the status quo, so we’re not on the same level. An individual’s ignorance may begin from one’s upbringing.

I remember in 2007 when my son was at a private school in Christchurch,  at the end of year function when the chair made a comment regarding the government’s investment in te reo and that the funding would be better put into private school education.  I complained to the chair of the board and the school principal, but neither came back to me.  Those experiences reinforce that ignorance.  However, we have advanced in te reo Maori and now there are te reo teachers in our schools.

Immersion  is the important factor;  the more you are introduced to new concepts, the more you broaden your views.”

Does Global Women have a role to play in the Path to Nationhood? 

“The importance of leaders is that you are influencers, but if your view on nationhood is not about inclusivity, people will follow you in your lane.  We should be provoking thinking in our leaders in Global Women and asking them for their views on nationhood. What is your attitude? What do you demonstrate through your actions? What is your puku saying about what nationhood means to you?  Have you parted from a siloed way of thinking and broadened your sense of diversity to think about nationhood? What do you exude in your leadership and embrace of diversity? Do you understand Te Tiriti?  What are your actions and behaviour around it?  This is my challenge to other women leaders.

Dame Jenny Shipley’s speech at the recent Waitangi weekend gave heartfelt recognition to Titewhai Harawera.  Even though at times they grated against each other, they were able to poke, prod and tease.  This is how change is made! Dame Jenny’s korero reflected on the eye-opening way that she learned from Titewhai.

Our Global Women Hui will be held in Waitangi in May this year.  That means there will be informative pieces about the Treaty and where we are with our own learning. Let’s create an environment for our leaders to be safe in their vulnerability, to explore where they sit.  First, is the hidden factor of our ignorance; how do we bring this to the fore?

In this context, it’s quite moving, and may mean that we could form groups of three to air our thoughts and attitudes.  Where do you come from in this kaupapa? What sort of attitude where you brought up with?  How was it demonstrated?  Because this korero is emotive, the best way to facilitate the small groups is to have one person speak, one to interview, and the third to become the impermeable witness who reflects.

Out of this will evolve some deep, dark and/or fabulous learning. How do we follow up and support? What mechanism do we put in place to support our women leaders?  Let’s hear from Dame Jenny, Jolie Hodson, CEO of Spark, and other members who grow up with knowledge.  If you are Maori and don’t look it, assumptions are made.  (My grandmother was from England, married into Ngāi Tahu and raised her five daughters in Tuahiwi as my Pōua was in the Māori Battalion D Company losing his life in Alamein.)  We need to strengthen our women leaders by asking what is your role in nationhood and your role in strengthening it in a diverse and inclusive society?

Yet as we look to women leaders in our society today, let’s not forget how we were raised and the tupuna women in our lives who were the driving force in our development and independence.  They were our Rangatira and we owe them much mihi.”

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)