Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Year 170: Tino Rangatiratanga and the Flag

As I mentioned in my first post, one recent announcement that has got people thinking about Waitangi Day, if not the Treaty of Waitangi directly, is the Government’s announcement that a national Māori flag will fly from Auckland Harbour Bridge, Premier House and other significant sites on Waitangi Day.  So, I thought this would be as good a place as any to start my assessment of the health of the Treaty relationship in its 170th year.

People might recall that it was actually just prior to Waitangi Day last year that this issue appeared in the media.  Transit New Zealand had refused to allow the flag most people know as the ‘tino rangatiratanga flag’ (though I note that Hone Harawira doesn't see it this way) to fly from the Auckland Harbour Bridge on Waitangi Day.  This looked like it was shaping up to be a test of the relationship between the National Government and the Māori Party until the Prime Minister effectively put off making a decision by saying he didn’t mind a Māori flag flying, so long as there was some agreement amongst Māori as to which flag it should be.  Māori Party co-leader and, at that time, freshly-minted Minister of Māori Affairs, Pita Sharples set the consultation process in motion, which eventually led to the decision that the tino rangatiratanga flag would be the one to fly at official sites on Waitangi Day.

Now, you can probably argue about whether the process represents a healthy Treaty relationship or actually quite the reverse.  Was this the Crown engaging and listening to Māori on a significant issue of national concern? Or was it a calculated diversion to distract Te Puni Kōkiri, the Māori Party, and Māoridom at large, while the Government got on with progressing a generally not very Māori-friendly agenda?

Whatever your view about the process, it is the substantive outcome that I would like to address here.  In particular, I’d like to consider the concept of tino rangatiratanga that this flag symbolizes.

As many people will be aware, ‘tino rangatiratanga’ is a key concept in the Treaty of Waitangi.  The Treaty guaranteed that the Māori signatories would retain their tino rangatiratanga.  The term is based on the word ‘rangatira’ (chief) and so with the suffix ‘tanga’ and the intensifier ‘tino’, is often translated as ‘chieftainship’ or ‘self-determination’.  In the context of applying the principles of the Treaty, a number of Waitangi Tribunal reports have discussed the meaning of this concept. The Tribunal has noted the close connection between ‘mana’ and ‘tino rangatiratanga’ and seen tino rangatiratanga as an equivalent to international concepts of aboriginal autonomy or self-government.  In the context of the Treaty, of course, the guarantee of tino rangatiratanga is qualified by the right to govern granted to the Crown (‘kawanatanga’) in Article 1 of the Treaty - just as that right to govern is qualified by the guarantee of tino rangatiratanga.  But, even in that qualified sense, the Waitangi Tribunal, in its report on Te Whanau o Waipareira, found:

The principle of rangatiratanga appears to be simply that Māori are guaranteed control of their own tikanga, including their social and political institutions and processes and, to the extent practicable and reasonable, they should fix their own policy and manage their own programmes.

Now, if this official recognition of the tino rangatiratanga flag is a symbol of the Government’s willingness to begin to recognise the substantive content of the guarantee of tino rangatiratanga, that would certainly be something to be applauded.  But, I have yet to see any commitment to follow through, to provide for Māori self-government and autonomy, even in the qualified sense described by the Waitangi Tribunal.  If there is no substance behind the symbolism, then it must be considered an empty gesture.  And then we all, Māori and Pākehā alike, really will have to ask ourselves whether that consultation over the flag was worth all the time and money after all.