The dawn servie at Waitangi on Tuesday addresed by Dr Alistair Reece

This is the text of an address given to the Waitangi dawn service on February 6 by Dr Alistair Reece. He is a farmer, historian, and public theologian. He holds postgraduate degrees in History, Tikanga Maori, and Theology, from Massey, Waikato, and Cambridge University. His writing includes a particular emphasis on Pākehā identity and how we can live in a colonised land. 

Mark 12:28-31

28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’There is no commandment greater than these.”

This is the Gospel of Christ.

Serendipitously, At Tūrangawae Marae a couple of weeks ago Archbishop Don Tamihere posed a rhetorical question, borrowed from Tina Turner:  What’s Love got to do with it? According to our reading today the answer to the Archbishop’s question is “Everything”. Love is the foundational ethic of Creation.

Further to that general question I ask – what does love have to do with real politik? According to our Creator’s instructions: Everything. Love is not just an injunction for Sunday – it’s the divine imperative for all our actions, at all times.


Love and Te Tiriti

Further we might ask: What does love have to do with Te Tiriti o Waitangi? It is this question I should like to respond to this morning by a process of re-imagining.

Maikuku and Takaroa – Tangi

Not many of us know that Waitangi began as a love story. Near here, a young women, Maikuku had been hidden in a watery cave by her whānau to protect her from unwelcome suitors. However she was discovered hiding there by a young man Hua Takaroa. It was the revealing sound of a tangi, a call from deep within the waters of the cave that led him to Maikuku and to a marriage that spawned a new whānau identity. Hence the name Waitangi.

ToW: a Love Story – Queen Victoria: Tangi

In these complex times of real politik it is difficult to comprehend that the Treaty of Waitangi was also originally a love story – Queen Victoria responded to the tangi in the North, the sound of Ngāpuhi rangatira’s discontent with the unruly settlers from Europe. She proposed a Treaty. The initial drama of that Treaty played out on these grounds over two days on the 5th and 6th February, 184 years ago.

Te Tou Rangatira :

On the night of the 5th Febraury, after a day of heated debate the chiefs gathered at Te Tou Rangatira, to wānanga further. To discuss among themselves the Crown’s proposal. They were joined by the missionary Henry Williams, or Karuwhā the translator and the mediator of the Treaty. Williams relayed to the gathered chiefs the British Crown’s response to the tangi of the North. He told them:

This is Queen Victoria’s act of love to you. She wants to ensure that you keep what is yours – your property, your rights and privileges, and those things you value…’.

Ngāmanu karakia

As a result of the interchange that night, the treaty was signed the next day. Such was the optimism – one of the signatories Ngāmanu, prayed:

Haere mai e te tiriti o Waitangi; Haere mai ki tenei ao; Haere mai me ngaa hua kei roto ki a koe. Welcome to the fruits that are within you.

Covenant: The Revelation of God’s Love to Creation

Framed by Williams, who saw a divine hand in Treaty. it was understood by many as a covenant.  For as the first signatory Hone Heke, exclaimed: ‘It is even as the Word of God’. He likened the Treaty to Te Paipera Tapu – the revelation of God’s love for his Creation. The Scriptures also define the nature of that love – a cross-shaped ethic where one is willing to lay down their life for the other.

A covenant of love, such as the Treaty is a sacrificial union. This is the kind of love that Williams referred to at Te Tou Rangatira. It is an ethic that seeks the best outcome for the other. And to paraphrase the Apostle Paul: love is patient, love is kind, it does does not dishonour others and love never fails! In other words, Williams was committing Victoria’s representatives to always seek the highest good for Māori.

If the treaty “was an act of love” by Victoria to Māori, by extension, “it needs also to be an act of love by our Governments to Māori”. Further, love is the hermeneutical portal for understanding the treaty. It is the interpretative key. Interpretation without love leads to a distorted vision. King Tawhiao implied that.

While the Treaty began as a love story, like all relational stories in real life, it was not without its issues. Hollywood does not get to write our script. It was not long before the fruits of Waitangi began to wither. In short time, Hone Heke of flagpole fame understood this; Nōpera Panakareao, understood this, as the shadow of the land shifted.

By the time Governor Grey sent General Cameron across the Mangatawhiri in 1863 the fruit was positively rotten. The invasion was like an act of violence by an unfaithful spouse. In response, the influential Ngāti Hauā chief, the Kingmaker, Wiremu Tamihana was moved to petition Queen Victoria.

He wrote: ‘Madame…Your covenant came to this island, and you said in good faith that the Maoris (sic) should retain their chieftainship, their mana and their lands…. These are your declarations…. And now, O Mother, assert your authority – the authority which has been trampled upon by Governor Grey, and give us back our land, our chieftainship, and our mana of which the colonists and the Governor are seeking to deprive us’.

Tamihana argued that the mana of the Crown was demeaned by the Governor because he betrayed the covenant in the land, the Treaty.

This is a kairos moment for our nation – a time when mana is being trampled. It is time to honour the Treaty and unequivocally restore its mana. It is time to restore the mana of the Crown. It is time to also restore the mana of te iwi Māori and all the signatories and witnesses of this tapu thing, even those of the Church.

In 1934, when he gifted this land back to the nation, the then Governor General, Lord Bledisloe called the Treaty a Tatau Pounamu, the doorway to reconciliation. He then prayed:

 ‘O God, grant that this sacred compact here made in these waters might be faithfully and honourably kept for all times to come’.

I have a confidence that Lord Bledisloe’s prayer will be answered because Covenant’s are a God thing – they attract His attention.

In times past it has seemed that the Treaty might be dead – think Judge Prendergast’s “simple nullity” ruling in 1877; but it has always surprised us. The place where we gather today is a symbol of the Treaty’s indomitable spirit. In 1940 thousands gathered. Sir Apirana Ngāta at the opening of this great Whare attested to the treaty’s resurrection life when he and hundreds of toa performed the Te Rauparaha haka: Ka mate, ka mate, ka ora, ka ora…It was dead and now it lives!

I shall close with another tangi – the 1990 prophetic words of the late Bishop Whakahuihui Vercoe to Queen Elizabeth and the crowds here at Waitangi. Inspired by Psalm 137, he said:

‘As I remember the songs of our land, as I remember the history of our land; I weep here on the shores of the Bay of Islands. May God grant us the courage to be honest with one another, to be sincere with one another and above all to love one another in the strength of God. So, I come to the waters of Waitangi to weep for what could have been a unique document in the history of the world of indigenous people with the Pakeha, and I still have the hope we can do it. Let us sit and listen to one another.’

Toitū te kupu, Toitū te Kawanata, Toitū te Tiriti!