Treaty of Waitangi 101

“I don’t feel responsible for anything my ancestors did and I don’t think there’s anything to redress – it’s all just history – shouldn’t we all just move on and worry about the future?”

It was early February about 23 years ago and I was hitching with an Aussie friend somewhere North of Kaitaia. We’d managed to get to Cape Reinga but were finding it hard getting any rides on the way back. It was getting dark and so we’d broken the golden rule and just hopped in the first car that stopped for us. It looked fairly flash and the man driving it was a middle aged Maori man in a suit. It was the late eighties and we were in Waitangi country and within a few minutes of being on the road again we were on the subject of the Treaty – which was when I made the above statement. It was typical of the times that I’d gotten through a fairly good secondary education and the first year of a degree in politics and I still knew nothing about the Treaty or any real history of New Zealand but still felt quite confident expressing the view that we should all just get over it (what ever ‘it’ was). He said that I might take more of an interest if I suddenly saw an army of disenfranchised Maori soldiers in camouflage gear storming South and holding the North as sovereign territory before re-grouping to take the rest of New Zealand in a civil war.

In the rear vision mirror I saw my friend’s eyes widen. I looked at him. He looked at me.

I noted that he wasn’t entirely serious. I suggested that he might have a bit of trouble finding the camo gear to cover his generous puku and as long as the other soldiers were in the same excellent state of fitness I felt pretty safe in the knowledge that I would be able to out run them. At which he burst out laughing and invited us to dinner as he said he was hungry and wouldn’t want his impressive puku to be diminished in any way. As he was getting out of the car I whispered to my mate that I was sure I knew him. I couldn’t find any family friend connections but his face was definitely familiar. He took us to what seemed to us like a flash restaurant – we had no money and were embarrassed so we just ordered a coke. He ordered half a chicken with all the trimmings for us each. The meal became an entertaining lecture on the Treaty of Waitangi 101 from which he quoted verbatim. At one point my mate whispered “You’re out of your league”. I nodded and agreed to keep my mouth shut for the duration of the journey. We also decided that if he was a Maori radical terrorist he was a really nice one. He drove us back to Orewa where he was staying. It was, by this time about 1am and we said we’d be fine if he just dropped us on the side of the road – we’d make our own way home. He insisted on asking us exactly where that might be and then drove about 40 minutes out of his way to drop us in the driveway. As I got out of the car I wanted to thank him but didn’t feel I could without knowing his name. “You can just call me Matt.” He said. “Or Matiu – whatever you like. And the penny dropped. “It’s Rata isn’t it? Your surname I mean.” I said. He nodded.

I still think of him around Waitangi Day and wonder what he’d make of the status that the Treaty holds in New Zealand today. Would he see it as progress that the brash pakeha hitch-hiker is just as keen to keep the Treaty clause in the legislation for the sale of SOE’s simply because the Treaty is a long term community based way of looking after the future which encompasses possible environmental and social consequences and not simply a thin and very temporary bottom line?

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