Can Sovereignty Be Shared?


SPEAKING FROM THE PORCH of the whare runanga, overlooking the Waitangi Treaty Ground, Jacinda Ardern challenged Maori to challenge her. “[W]hen we return in one year, in three years, I ask you to ask of us ‘what have we done?’ Ask us what we have done to improve poverty … ask us, hold us to account.”

Jacinda asked Maoridom to score her government on how well – or how badly – it has addressed the big issues confronting Maori. She spoke encouragingly about New Zealanders coming to terms with their country’s history and the Waitangi Treaty’s pivotal role in shaping that history.

What she was careful not to do, however, was openly concede – as the Green Party leader, James Shaw did – that Maori had never ceded sovereignty to the British Crown. As Prime Minister, such a concession would immediately pitch New Zealand into a protracted and extremely bitter constitutional crisis.

The authority of the Crown in the Realm of New Zealand is absolute and indivisible. To preserve that authority, the settler government of Sir George Grey invaded the Waikato in 1863. Through the bitterest strife, the kingitanga movement came to understand that Her Majesty’s Government would never accept the idea of a sovereignty shared between Pakeha colonists and tangata whenua. The only sort of Maori king acceptable to the British Crown was the sort that wielded no power.

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The notion that sovereignty was never ceded to the Crown by Maori arises out of the radical and highly tendentious historiography of the Waitangi Tribunal. For this particular historical interpretation of what transpired at Waitangi on 6 February 1840 to stand, however, it is necessary to ignore all the subsequent actions of the Crown between that date and the mid-1980s.

The construction and elaboration of the New Zealand State; the creation and interpretation of its laws; the legal status and inviolability of its citizens’ private property: all would be called into question if the idea that Maori sovereignty was never actually ceded to the Crown in 1840 was ever to be formally accepted by a New Zealand prime minister and her government.

Warm and inclusive though Jacinda’s speech from the whare runanga may have been, it was nevertheless the speech of a political leader in control of an absolute and indivisible state apparatus.

Was she promising to turn that apparatus to the urgent task of uplifting Maori New Zealanders out of poverty, homelessness and the bitter legacy of 178 years of colonial oppression? Yes, she was.

Was she proposing to unleash a constitutional revolution inspired by revisionist historians’ interpretation of the Waitangi Treaty? No, she was not.

Jacinda’s speech to the Iwi Leaders Forum at the beginning of her five-day sojourn in the Far North made clear her government’s intentions. In short, these were all about dealing with Maori material deprivation. Iwi leaders intent on pushing forward “cultural” issues – by which they mean constitutional issues – will very soon find they are pushing in vain.

Do the 13 Maori members in Labour’s caucus get this? Are they okay with this?

In all probability they are working very hard not to apprehend the dangerously contradictory currents into which Labour’s waka is drifting. All of them are eager to begin the process of uplifting their people. How many of them have thought through the medium-term consequences of this policy of empowerment is another matter altogether. What they will do when material uplift morphs into uncompromising cultural assertion is anybody’s guess.

The whole of Labour’s team is desperate to draw a line under the malign political effects of Helen Clark’s and Margaret Wilson’s Foreshore & Seabed Act. The demise of the Maori Party as a parliamentary force has raised hopes that this is, indeed, the case. But it will take more than Jacinda’s warm words to cause the structures of sovereignty and executive power by which all New Zealand prime ministers are constrained to disappear in a puff of stardust.

Clark and Wilson did not overturn the Court of Appeal’s judgement out of racially-motivated spite. They overturned it because to do otherwise would have been to catch the judgement’s loosened legal thread in their fingertips, pull on it, and watch the entire constitutional garment of New Zealand unravel before their eyes.

Jacinda’s intentions and those of her Maori caucus colleagues are unquestionably benign. But in political circumstances as fraught as these, good intentions are seldom enough. If, as the revisionist historians insist, Maori sovereignty was never ceded to the Crown, then the descendants of the Waitangi signatories’ determination to reclaim it; to exercise it; is entirely reasonable.

The question which such a response immediately poses, however, is as difficult as it is portentous: Can two peoples exercise equal sovereignty in an undivided state?



  1. A two state solution just like Israel and Palestine?
    Probably wouldn’t work there either.
    The problem seems to have arisen in the translation from English to Maori. The English version is unequivocal ; sovereignty cedes to Victoria, but the Maori translation is not so precise.
    This to me begs the question of whether one can imagine those proud warrior chiefs signing away their “sovereignty” like that. It begs the question in my mind of whether the apparent discrepancy was by accident or by design.
    It might have been a good idea to have left it in the museum.
    Certainly what matters now is an inclusive society that looks after everyone’s needs and prospects.
    D J S

    • Apparently the Littlewood treaty settles the discrepancy between the Maori and English versions, – but it also does so in a way that dismantles the arguments of those who stand to gain by the Grievance Industry… as its been coined.

      It still sits today , in the Archives in a museum in Wellington.

      Discredited and ignored, yet all factors pointing to it being the very same final English version that went missing soon after the treaty was signed.

      And funnily enough , then as now ,… those gold-diggers who saw an opportunity for personal gain in the future of maintaining a state of legal confusion and flux soon went into action… consider those Maoris who wanted to settle old scores against other tribes who were their traditional enemy’s , … or consider land hungry officials who saw interpretive confusion as a massive loop hole to be exploited…

      That’s ,… when we start to get honest and see all this for what it is,… and why the Littlewood treaty remains in a dusty , obscure vault in a Wellington museum to this very day.

      It serves someone a very good purpose to have it relegated to the dustbin of history and constantly ignored…

      The Littlewood Treaty – Treaty of Waitangi .

      • Interesting that the Maori “copy ” was the only one signed. This certainly explains Sumsuch’s comment below re this version being the one that matters. But doesn’t the existing maori signed version include “Forests and fisheries”?
        Surely we have not been working from an unsigned document while a signed document fundamentally disagrees. It doesn’t need a newly discovered draft to scotch the credibility of that. But if the signed document does include these then surely thats that.
        D J S

        • Judge James Prendergast back in the 1800’s ruled the treaty void by arguing that there were different types of civilisations and that Māori was on a lower tier. Since then Crown sovereignty is based on simply showing up one day. It lacks credibility but this should not sway our resolve of solving problems.

      • Even if the Littlewood draft is real, it’s a red herring. What’s at issue here is not what the British *intended* tangata whenua to sign up to, but what tangata whenua *agreed to* when they signed the Te Reo version, the version they understood because it was written in their language. The Te Reo version is very clear that tangata whenua retained tino rangatiratanga (“sovereignty”) and only granted the Crown a right of kawanatanga (“governance”) over their own colonies.

        • What did the British actually get as a result of the Treaty if not Sovereignty? It is clear that Maori received something in return.

            • As always there is an implied statement with in every one of your questions Gosman. As if you know something but don’t want to say for fear it might make you sound a little bit cleaver.

              What I hear is a lot of people agreeing that might rights and economic development is good. Sure, fine, I agree, but I have a feeling most of you would be pretty selective about applying that principle I.e me first or woman and children first.

              The fact is there is a massive amount of prosperity for we who live in the New World and it’s built on lies. Hardly any one signed up to the English version of the Treaty because it’s gone through ongoing changes. And those changes were never ratified by any one except a bunch of people that just showed up one day. If you think we’re not from here, you’re stupid. If you’re not bothered by the lies in our foundations, you’re deficient.

              What complicates matters even further is the end game, so to speak. What do we do now – and maoridom – actually want to achieve with the treaty of Waitangi? Is the goal successfully integrate into bicultural Aotearoa-New Zealand? Is it to mainstream maoridom? If so then I find the original Treaty of Waitangi difficult to justify: if integration is the goal, it dosnt make much sense to exclude Māori every step of the way and renege on every land deal ever to secure an extra ordinary place for New Zealanders of European decent. Or is the goal to create quasi independent states with in New Zealand? (Like Native American Reservations?).

              The problem is 30% of kiwis are locked in poverty and most of them are Māori thanks to some enterprising colonialists who grabbed as much resources for there group and never mind the rest. In fact every time Māori attempted to develop the settlers were right there destroying Māori aspirations and development literally burning Māori owned ships, ports, docks and villages and today are locked in a spiral of poverty, and to be blunt, they’re unlikely to get out with out massive state investment.

              And now I’m like did I offend you eh gooie.

    • Just one small excerpt from the Littlewood treaty website where you can really see the motives and the reasonable fear of the Maori leaders of that time in response to possible French retribution …

      … ” While British interests and investments continued to increase and become predominant at the time, French and American activity was also on the increase. This worried the British as they were beginning to build up large capital investments in New Zealand but with no protection if New Zealand was annexed by another nation.

      Many events sparked off Maori appeals to Britain for protection. The first in 1831 when it was rumoured that the French naval vessel La Favourite intended to annex New Zealand to France in retaliation for the killing of Marion du Fresne and his crew. The Maoris even discussed a letter to the King asking for his protection but decided on placing a British flag on the mission flagstaff, reasoning that if the French tore it down, the missionaries would appeal to Britain for protection. After this 13 powerful northern chiefs did send a letter to the King asking him to become their friend, guardian and protector of these islands ”…

      These Maori Chiefs were men ( although woman also were Rangitira ) who were ultimately responsible for the wise shepherding of their people ,their welfare and future generations ( like the Scots Highlander Cheifs) – , any good leader can see their reasoning with weighty issues like these afoot …

      And although many of the tribes were not in any way involved with the Marion du Fresne incident , word would have spread rapidly. Also there was the Boyd incident. A clear case of two cultures clashing…in any case, … the implications were clear : that the long era of relative isolation was now over , and that they were experiencing a totally new and unprecedented wave of European and American expansionism and new solutions needed to be sought to avoid being annihilated.

      Boyd massacre – Wikipedia

      Marc-Joseph Marion du Fresne – Wikipedia

      • Yes, tangata whanu sought allies among foreign powers, just as the NZ state does today. This is what the leaders of sovereign peoples do. This is not the same thing as handing over sovereignty to a foreign power.

      • That’s interesting Sumsuch; Why is that?

        I can see a moral equitability of that judgement but not an obvious legal priority. Can you explain?
        Cheers D J S

      • “…2 civilisations competing for the same limited resources….”

        What the fuck are you on about @ SAM?
        We’re not talking Martians versus Earthlings here.
        We’re talking about two fundamentally different NZ / Aotearoa cultures living in the same space, and we must. There’s no getting away from that.
        If we Pakeha and Maori don’t come to an accord, we’ll be overtaken and trampled into our rich and fertile lands by someone else, but by whom?
        Again, it’s not so much by whom, but by what.
        The bizarre ab$traction that is the U$A i$ $urely a clue.
        It’s going to be by a culture that reveres money. Our country will be lost to money fetishists with narcissistic sadism and God on their side to tell them how to fuck us on the deal, while we scrap about now irrelevant historical events, which admittedly shaped our country, but those times are gone. Only the grudge remains and look how that worked out for the Irish?
        These are new and desperate times and by fuck, we’d best stick together.

        • I’m going to give you a really long fucken leash COUNTRYBOY. Like really really really long. I do not recommend Iwi leaders pull maoridom out of the treaty because some guy offended another. As some one who comes from an 8 generation family indigenous to Aoteroa-New Zealand who was directed to be courteous to others I’ll let you have your say.

          I don’t get why sovereignty is expectable behavior even if it’s not serious.

          This is an era in which John Key pretending to be a Prime Minister is deceptively easy and causing people to take him serious when threatening people in other countries namely Iraq having never exhibited such credibility in his long years behind a desk. Not to mention carrying out the threats against Māori that Prime Ministers through our history and official agents of the crown make against Māori/people unjustly. And going easy on them because they claim to be joking or deflecting is just stupid.

          People have to be brought up to believe themselves part of a nation, part of something more than a gang, or a neighborhood, or a town. It gives them common ground, a basis for trusting one another and attempting to make things better, rather than merely grabbing for as much as their group can grab. This is one reason to be against the settlement process especially if you believe income producing assets shouldn’t be burnt or sold. And this means getting the economy to a point where small businesses can afford to take one more people, crack down on outrage culture, and kill identity politics, since that encourages the tension and division.

  2. It is a question that is better left buried as no good will come of it. Better to focus on meaningful outcomes for Maori than distractions that will inevitably lead to the will of the majority being expressed in a very sad and negative way.

    If we get inequality meaningful dealt to then over 200 years interbreeding will make this a non event.

    • Interbreeding doesn’t seem to have helped. No one is pure Maori any more. Some of the most tenuous claimants of Maori ethnicity are the most vocal and aggressive claimants of rights. It’s almost like gender choice. It won’t be solved that way.
      D J S

    • “over 200 years interbreeding will make this a non event.”

      When a baby is born, if one parent parent has tangata whenua whakapapa, they are Māori. Counting fractions of “blood” (1/2 Māori, 1/4 Māori) went out with the eugenics movement.

      Besides, this proposed solution reminds me of the bit in Braveheart where Edward Longshanks attempts to breed out the independence of the Scots by allowing English lords to have sex with Scottish brides on their wedding night. That sure worked out well.

  3. The British were a lot like the Roman Empire and the Maoris could be viewed a lot like the Germanic tribes Tacitus wrote of…

    And , while the Romans had subdued many Celtic Gauls through direct military campaigns , with the Germans it took a combined number of methods to ‘induce’ them to come under the Roman umbrella.

    Trade , alliances , and warfare were top on the list. The topography of the heavily wooded forests of Germany and the harsh ,cold environment made that necessary. The forests provided excellent stages of ambush of Roman troops, – hence the battle of Teutoberg.

    So here we have the British Empire , surveying a large land mass, deeply forested , with peoples who were militaristic with strong centralized power bases. They were similar to the Scots Highlanders.

    They had been there before….

    The difference was the far flung distance between Britain and New Zealand,…or rather ,.. the lack of obvious and relatively easily accessed valuable resources like diamonds in South Africa or spices ,gems and ore in India , still ,… it would serve well as a military outpost against France and its competitor , the USA,…

    There was a battle between two German tribes , one Allied with Rome , the other an enemy of it that Tacitus observed and wrote of , stating ‘what better way to weaken the enemy’s of Rome than to let them slaughter each other ‘

    The same thing happened in New Zealand with the Musket wars , whereby no real attempts were made to prohibit sales of firearms to the Maoris , – in fact , – it was encouraged. Many industry’s benefited from the production and sales… and as far as the British Empire was concerned , – it also weakened the military strength and traditional balances of power held between the Maori tribes , thus leaving large areas of land under question as to who actually now held authority over that land as the latter were now either displaced or slaughtered.

    So there were the musket wars,… there was also the reputation of the French of treatment of various indigenous peoples , and the Americans.

    Maori political and military leaders saw that this was a time of rapid change , – there was no longer going to be century’s of isolation and , like Japan , … they had to make a decision. Unlike Japan , – they were far less numerous, did not have a centralized hierarchy , had not been exposed to firearms for century’s ( Japan had through the Portuguese – they had more firearms per capita than Europe did ) – in short ? – they were sitting ducks for occupation ( and abuse ) if they did not choose who they would align with.

    So they chose Britain . It had the most powerful Navy in the world and a legal system that seemed to be more fair then the others- for indigenous peoples at least.

    Smaller weaker tribes often welcomed the idea of a powerful intercessor that somewhat protected them against larger , more powerful traditional enemy’s. They would no longer be vassals , slaves and subject to abuses by their enemy’s.

    At least , that was how the thinking went.

    Larger tribes that gained through international trade made possible by European sea transport also welcomed a treaty , – an example was the huge timber trade between Sydney and California that developed.

    So a treaty was signed for various motives and reasons , with the understanding that regards a common law, at least , the only thing asked for was a type of acknowledgement and adherence to that common law.

    And to do that ?, – some measure of ceding certain aspects of ‘sovereignty’ was needed. Obviously the pros must have outweighed the cons or there would have been no signatories at all to any treaty…

    There must have been something attractive about the prospect so what was it?

    A guarantee that they would not be slaughtered and their lands stripped? Such as had been seen in other country’s?

    The treaty says that lands and things deemed valuable were to be protected for personal / tribal discretion to do with them as they best deemed fit… well we have seen abuses over the time since the treaty was signed, – many of them.

    An interesting one around that time was the war in the Waikato. The Waikato tribes did not sign the treaty , thus they were deemed outside those ‘protections’ . The Waikato tribes were also sending their young men as troops in the wars in the Taranaki against the British and the settlers,… and had the Kingi movement.

    So to smash the power base , the Waikato was invaded.

    It was a dirty war , and the General who was in charge of that operation believed it was wrong. That was General Cameron. He later resigned on the strength of those convictions .

    As there are individuals, with individual opinions , so were the tribes. Not all acted in unison or agreement with decisions made by another tribe And because of that Waikato war, – there were deemed large tracts of land that now had no one in authority over them – or so it was justified. So they were ‘ confiscated’.

    And opened up for sale and settlement. Thus the Waikatos lost so much of their land.

    It was done by stealth , and it was done with collusion of other enemy’s of the Waikatos , as many Maori tribes fought on the side of the British.

    This notion of sovereignty has been blown up for political reasons and distorted over time for the self servers whoever they may be. The fact was , – a certain measure of sovereignty WAS ceded , – in exchange for certain obvious benefits. But autonomy over personal , collective properties and things of value were not , at least in theory.

    The fact that abuses , breaches and those operating with ulterior motives for personal gain have occurred over time does not mean the original purposes of the treaty are null and void , – it just means the darker side of human nature have sought to circumvent or ignore it.

    Issues such as Bastion Point, Raglan , – and a plethora of others show that.

    Nothing has changed since the 19th century. Where there is wealth , and a means to obtain it , that dark side will often emerge. It always has.

    The fact that central government has often done nothing – or even been in full yet silent agreement ,- in the land grabs and pilfering is more an indictment on them rather than a commentary on widespread inherent racism. More often the public are not given the full facts by a media silent on the historic issues.

    I do not see the issue as one of separatism or sovereignty, rather , one of fair play . Rectifying past wrongs should be carried out . Unfortunately because of the passage of time , the full costs cannot be realistically restored no matter how idealistic we try to. But to the best of our ability we should . We all, have self determination already, within local limits , or within the parliament we have.

    We could attempt something similar as the First Nations of Canada or Native Americans of the USA , – but even that is self determination within localized limits and still operates under a greater centralized system of government and finance. And seeks change through representation in that centralized government system.

    I often think , that a fair amount of what passes for pushing sovereignty issues regards the treaty is just a rehash of those same types who saw an opportunity for personal gain as did in the 19th century , – the only difference being that instead of bloodshed and muskets they use idealism , emotionalism and the existing parliament to achieve their goals. At least some of them are not doing it for social justice reasons , that’s for sure.

    Still , righting past wrongs is a good thing and must be done. There’s no quarrel with that. All power to the process , even if it means some original innovative ideas to achieve them. In the end, its just good to see people prosperous, happy and secure . And surely that is one of the end goals of what sovereignty promises to deliver.

    • These are all speculative questions! No benefit can come of these speculative questions and answers. We are New Zealand citizens and if you do not handle New Zealand citizens in away that dosnt make people despise you then you have real worries. Not if they are going to follow you to the election or the next elections.

      If Jacinda handles Waitangi Day she may not achieve what she sets out to achieve a functioning democracy in Aotearoa-New Zealand but it will be a little bit more stable than it would have been under a Don Brash administration and indeed a John/Bill administration and we must be better for it. I think we will overcome the need to create the perfect conditions before we re-establish bilingualism. Perhaps we will also overcome the 5i’s because terror operations on NZ soil is a messy business.

      One of the strangest things about New Zealand is this obsession with the family home which makes it like only mainstream lives are important. The people of the Pacific islands have neither the populations to sustain scientific or economic outputs to solve there problems. Millions face ruin and we New Zealanders squabble over our privileged positions of puzzlement and amazement. I think you have to look at this in the long term because all of it will be forgotten. But how do you hold your head up and say I came to do good and I did good.

      We do not perform as conquers for various reasons, one being we would not get the blessings of the UN otherwise it would be much easier to engage the crown in open warfare. And the crown must carry the burden of being a colonialist force. Now we go through the burden and leave it in better shape. And Jacinda will still be the leader of modern Aotearoa-New Zealand.

  4. There had to be an English translation, because presumably it was first written in the language of those who drafted it, then translated to te reo Maori, to be signed. The other question beggibg to be answered is how many of those chiefs who signed were literate? Not too many, so left to those few who could read the wording, to explain to others. No doubt at all that even some of the English living here in 1840 were barely literate as we know it today. The issue now is that whatever raises Maori out of poverty will also raise the rest who do not have Maori blood. We are all one people with all of the problems to be solved.

  5. Let’s pop the highly contentious TIRITI back in the dustbin of history where it belongs. This document, which was hastily cobbled together to further the interests of both local & foreign opportunists, is simply another historical example of REAL POLITIK in action. Today, at this pivotal moment in history, when the extinction of our species is a real possibility, the only treaty required is a PEACE TREATY. We need to bury the hatchet & work together to ensure our nations survival & the long term wellbeing of all our peoples. I believe the best way to advance this process would be to develop the framework for a uniquely NZ post-globalistion confederacy, & underpin it with a revitalised constitution. Let’s Re-New Zealand together. A Patriotic Revolutionary Front vision.

  6. Who, now, are ‘pakeha’?

    And, when we shifted from a colony to a Dominion to a nation – did the rights of pakeha change? Because, unlike Britain, we don’t seem to be ‘loyal subjects’.

    Has our side of the deal been renegotiated? When?

    For those of us born here, sometimes from families with a long history here – tangata whenua, surely?

    Or are we born here yet not of the land? Culturally barren? Not to mention deprived of our ancestral languages? Uprooted from our ancient cultures and ways – colonial shock, surely?

    Or is some other narrative in play?

    And, while I’m thinking on it – Chris mentions “All of them are eager to begin the process of uplifting their people.”

    Begin the process? Begin????

    Which of the many begins is this one? When did we assess the outcomes of the last many? Too many open-endeds here. Too many repeats of the start and not enough of the middle heading to a higher level.

    PS When Maori go to Australia and settle – is that colonialism???

    • That one party is ahead in the poles but fails to form government ruins a lot of minds because all of the questions get in the way and ideology gets in the way.

      New Zealands greatest achievements are not in politics but how those politics are applied to reducing poverty and the problem with the National Party is there is no successor to Bill English.

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