Ngati Hine chair Waihoroi ("Wasi") Shortland and the Prime Minister, Chris Hipkins, hongi during the formal welcome to the political leaders.

The politics of Waitangi and the Treaty evident over the weekend have moved into a new space.

There is a new wave of Maori activism, which sees the Treaty as a living document fundamental to Maori citizenship.

The politicians from all parties were given a forceful reminder of how Maori regard the Crown’s historical adherence to the Treaty from Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Hine chairman Waihoroi Shortland when he concluded the welcome to the leaders on to the upper marae on Sunday.

“ I hear the words you have said on this marae and the acknowledgements you make about how over these 183 years, our nation has deviated from the promise of the Treaty,” he said.

“ I am here today to remind you I am in the very same place that we were 183 years ago.

“And I haven’t shifted.

“I could not have deviated. “

“But the question remains; who was it that shifted  who was it and who moved away; who was it?”

POLITIK A challenge at the powhiri for political leaders

Shortland encapsulated what is now the central question about the Treaty; that it embraces and encompasses a much wider range of issues than simply dodgy land deals or land confiscation.

Those arguments have been given a huge boost not only by recent legal scholarship from Professor David Williams and Ned Fletcher and work by the anthropologist Dame Anne Salmon but also the Waitangi Tribunal finding last December that Ngapuhi (of which Shortland’s Ngati Hine are a part) did not cede sovereignty to the Crown.

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The new Treaty activism has also been reinforced by the co-governance moves made by former Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta and her support for Maori wards in local government.

At the Iwi chairs forum last Friday, Tainui chair, Tukuroirangi Morgan, told the Prime Minister of the chairs’ concerns that Mahuta had lost her local government role and been demoted in the Cabinet.

The chairs told media her moves had been widely supported within Maoridom.

“There are concerns in terms of the fantastic work and leadership she’s provided,” said Jamie Tuuta, the chair of the Forum.

The meeting took place behind closed doors, but several participants described it as “forthright” and “frank”.

POLITIK Prime Minister Chris Hipkins helping paddle a waka at Waitangi at the weekend

For its part, the Government responded with the usually-blunt Willie Jackson, now elevated above Mahuta in the Cabinet, who told the chairs they would have to understand they either supported the government as it moved to water down co-governance or, if they didn’t, they would end up enabling National-ACT government.  

With that, there would be an end to the Maori Health Authority and other Maori-specific measures introduced by the Ardern Government, he said.

Hipkins and Jackson are proposing a new iteration of Mahuta’s co-governance proposals, which they are calling “mahi tahi”, “working together”.

One Minister told POLITIK that the Cabinet knows that 90 per cent of the submissions on the Three Waters legislation opposed the proposals and that many of those submissions attacked co-governance.

Any changes will thus focus on co-governance.

Hipkins confirmed that the Government was not rejecting the overall concepts behind Three Waters.

“One thing I will rule out is no reform,” he said.

“There is absolutely no question that we can’t continue with the status quo; it is not delivering New Zealanders the water services that they need and that they deserve and, if we leave it just with the status quo,  one thing. It will deliver significantly higher rates for households, and  I’m not willing to just stand back and say, well, that’s a council problem to deal with.”

Though it is clear that the Hipkins Government will bring the Three Waters legislation back to the debating Chamber to remove the co-governance proposal, the Prime Minister has been anxious to emphasise that any abandonment of co-governance does not mean an abandonment of the Treaty.

“Much of the contemporary debate, unfortunately, is still characterised by a degree of uncertainty and fear, but with honesty and understanding, we can overcome that, and we can see this process through,” he said on the Waitangi Marae on Sunday.

“But it also must come with an acknowledgement that the resolution of historic grievances is not the end of the matter;  that the commitment that we made to working together 183 years ago will endure long beyond the treaty settlement process, and we have to continue to give life to that commitment.

“It means working together to deal with the challenges that we all face and to secure the future prosperity of everybody that lives here.”

That question of what happens when the last big Treaty settlement — Ngapuhi — is finally settled was one being asked in the various forums that took place at Waitangi over the weekend.

POLITIK Prime Minister Chris Hipkins; National Leader, Christopher Luxon and Greens co-leader James Shaw at the powhiri on Waitangi Marae on Sunday

National Leader Christopher Luxon, speaking on the marae on Sunday, appeared to say that all claims could be settled by 2030, and that would  be that.

“I would hope that by 2030, complete treaty settlements with all iwi that are willing to settle, then it will be possible to declare the tremendous national reconciliation project of treaty settlements that began in the 1990s is complete,” he said.

This sounded like a new variation on National’s 1994 proposal of a one billion dollar “fiscal envelope” to contain all claims.

That was rejected by a series of hui and protests by Maori, who argued that the proposal denied them rangatiratanga.

So as substantial claims not relating to land but to significant cultural and environmental matters like the currently parked claim on water allocation must inevitably one day end up before the Waitangi Tribunal, Luxon’s deadline is likely to be challenged.

Does he, therefore, accept that the Treaty is a living document and that there will always be claims, not necessarily over land, but on other matters?

“That’s the nature of nationhood; that it continues to evolve, and the arc continues to go forward,” he said.

“And it’s the nature in a post settlements world of actually the relationship between Maori and Crown.

“There’ll be a whole bunch of new issues for us to work through, to think through.

“And so, and it will continue to evolve as it did, 50 years into this nation, as it did 100 years, 150 years, and now 183 years.”

The Waitangi Trust set up a political forum where issues like this could be debated.

POLITIK Another challenge to the Prime Minister at Waitangi

Neither Luxon nor Hipkins attended, but Shane Reti and Peeni Henare went in their place, along with Greens co-leader Marama Davidson and Te Pati Maori co-leader Deborah Ngarewa-Packer. ACT sent no one.

The absences were criticised.

“It’s a disgrace. It’s disgusting. This is what a relationship looks like. You show up even when it isn’t pretty,” said Maori climate-change activist India Logan-Riley.

Tuku Morgan was also critical.

“I  listened to each of them (the political leaders)  stand before us this morning and affirm their ongoing commitment to the Treaty that gave the earliest Pakeha settlers in this country a licence to live here,  and they parroted the importance of the relationship,” he said.

“But they don’t have the audacity nor the respect to turn up and answer the questions. “

The question the panel was trying to answer was where the Treaty would be in its bicentenary year, 2040.

Morgan argued that the Treaty should be the basis for a much-improved relationship between Maori and Pakeha.

“As we listen to politicians and we see our dreams and aspirations of that which was promised to our ancestors in 1840 crushed by an endless stream of politicians do we use Waitangi as a springboard for development so that we can work together as a united people with prosperity and equity for all?” he said.

National’s Shane Reti more or less conceded Morgans’ point with his vision for 2040 with his acknowledgement of the disparities between Pakeha and Maori social indicators.

“ By 2040, 200 years after signing, we want there to be further progress in our relationships with each other, in our relationships with our environment and our relationships with our spiritual belief entities,” he said.

“We want to make good inroads into the differences in life’s trajectories and outcomes that vary amongst us.

“We may not have fixed cancer, but we must have made efforts to fix the factors that we are in control of, and that gives us the differences.

“We may not have completely evened up educational outcomes, but we must have made further efforts to give children the best opportunities to start life in a good place to thrive.

“We may not be completely balanced incarceration rates, but we must make further efforts to address  the social determinants of crime damages by 2040.”

Not surprisingly, Te Pati Maori co-leader Deborah Ngarewa Packer offered a more radical vision starting with making all Waitangi Tribunal decisions binding and making that retrospective.

She said her party would abolish the idea that settlements were full and final.

They would give iwi first right of refusal when private land with historical significance came up for sale and would establish a Parliamentary Commissioner for the Treaty to provide oversight of the Crown.

“So we would have our own entity that holds the Crown to task on its ability to monitor the honouring of Te Tiriti,” she said.

And that about summed the weekend up; that the Treaty debate has now shifted its focus to the post-settlement era and that many see its fundamental proposition, which Hipkins interprets as “mahi tahi” (working together), as extending across every facet of New Zealand life.