Sometimes what governments do take a while to sink in; the 1984 – 90 Labour Government extended the ability of Maori to take Waitangi claims back to 1840.
In the process they dramatically changed New Zealand and set in process claims settlements that only really became evident in the late 1990s as iwi like Ngai Tahu and Tainui began to flex their newly enhanced financial muscle.
The current Government is working on a move with the potential to be equally as far-reaching.
The creation of the Ministry of Maori- Crown Relations (Te Arawhiti) is theoretically about the post-settlement era.
That makes it sound like some sort of dry bureaucracy dotting is and crossing ts in already agreed settlements.
“This is a 178 years in the making,” the Minister in Charge of new Ministry, Kelvin Davis told POLITIK.
“We are coming to the end of the settlements, but we can’t just say everything is settled, haere ra Maori, you are on your way.
“We’ve got to continue to engage and make sure that Maori are doing as well as any other group in the country.”
Davis believes he has been given an amazing opportunity to build on the Treaty.
“When my great great great grandfather signed Te Titiriti Waitangi he would have had that visions that it was going to be better for his hapu, his people, his descendants, now I get the opportunity to fulfil the dream he had back in February 1840.”
What Davis and his Ministry are talking about is moving Treaty matters and relations with Maori beyond box ticking and bringing a Maori consciousness to the centre of Government departments thinking and actions when they deal with Maori.
It will require a massive cultural change within the Government that will go well beyond learning Te Reo or having a departmental Kapa Haka group.
Davis says what Te Arawhiti offers is the possibility of what he calls a “true relationship”.
“Maori will be able to challenge the Crown, but also we will be able to challenge Maoridom to say what are we going to be able to do together to imp
rove these outcomes.
“I think that is where we need to be.
“The relationship at the moment has always been, Maori criticising the Crown, and then Crown contracting Maori for outcomes whereas one of the things that will change is that we are going to be in this together.
“And it is not going to be a contractual type relationship.”
And that is the radical bit.
Ministries and departments won’t need to contract Maori specialists because those entities will employ those people and they will be at the heart of what they do.
In a way, it may be similar to the way all public servants learnt to take economics into account after the reforms of the 1980s and 1990s.
Te Arawhiti will mean that Te Ao Maori will be a core element in everything the Government does.
It will act as a central agency coordinating and encouraging other agencies — Davis cites Corrections as an example — to bring Maori into their fundamental thinking.
“Maori shouldn’t be coming to the table thinking how do we get a contract to filter into our organisation but instead it should be, how do we work together.”
But though the big Treaty claims may be almost settled — except, of course, Davis’s own Ngapuhi claims — there is already talk of new claims, what are being called the contemporary claims which deal with issues as diverse as intellectual property or water.
“We will take a lead on the difficult issues.
“There is the freshwater issue, for example where we have established Kahui Wai Maori bringing together Maori with expertise in that area.”
In fact, the list of names on Kaui Wai Maori is something of a revelation. Instead of the usual Maori political suspects, it is a new generation of young Maori scientists and environmentalists, most of whom will be new to Wellington.
“The talent and skills are in Maoridom. Let’s be clear there are some exceptionally talented people across a whole range of fields.
“So it wasn’t particularly hard to pull together a group.”
And he sees what is being done with water as a template for other issues.
“Let’s try and stop the you crown against us — let’s work together and if we can do things together before they get to the Tribunal stage that saves everybody a whole heap of time, energy and resources.”
It is this broadening of the conversation that seems to lie at the heart of what David is proposing.
“If you think there is a limited pool you just get the same old thoughts and ideas rotating around, and we have brought in a diverse group of people who haven’t necessarily been involved at this level before.
“It just brings a fresh set of eyes and fresh thinking to a pretty complex issue.”
Davis sees the work of Te Arawhiti as playing a central role in the delivery of the Government’s wellbeing budget where the focus will be on outcomes.
He sees this in a very personal; sense.
“The well-being is going to be dealing with some of these issues that have been hanging around for ages and that people have been focussing on for so long at the expense of other stuff.
“If we can deal with them then we can actually address the housing, the education and poverty and all that.
“My own children in their late teens, early 20s, if they are dealing with these issues in 20 or 30 years time then I have failed them.
“We’ve got to start dealing with these hard issues so that the next generation of people are just getting on with being highly successful and contributing members of communities.”
David argues that if Maori succeed then New Zealand succeeds and he makes the point that bringing some of the dismal Maori social statistics within a normal range will have a dramatic effect on New Zealand’s overall social statistics.
It’s an ambitious goal but who would have thought back in 1990 that we would even be talking like this now.