National | Te Tiriti o Waitangi

Te Papa should remove English version of the Treaty of Waitangi - Māori legal expert

Te Papa Tongarewa

A Māori legal expert is urging Te Papa to listen to protesters and remove its large display of the English version of the Treaty of Waitangi.

Twelve people were arrested on Monday after attacking the exhibition and using spray paint and an angle grinder to damage a wooden display panel.

The group, Te Waka Hourua says the English text wrongly states that Māori ceded sovereignty.

Te Wānanga o Raukawa Māori laws and philosophy kaihautu and Victoria University honorary associate professor of Māori studies Carwyn Jones said Te Papa’s Treaty of Waitangi exhibition needs to change.

He said there was confusion about Te Tiriti and Te Papa’s exhibition added to that.

“At the moment the exhibition at Te Papa makes it look as though there are these two equal documents and there’s some debate and discussion between them and we know that actually that’s not true.”

The protesters want the exhibition re-designed, with the large English version of the Treaty removed and a direct translation of the te reo Māori text added in.

They said the display should make it explicit that Māori never ceded sovereignty, contrary to what is in the English document which rangatira never signed.

Carwyn Jones says the te reo Māori should be the basis of Te Papa's display. Photo / RNZ

Carwyn Jones backed those demands.

He said the te reo Māori text was the substantiative agreement and should be the basis of Te Papa’s display.

“Explain some of the history of how it’s been interpreted and explain some of the differences between what the English version is and what Te Tiriti says. But I think it’s really important for an institution like Te Papa to be really clear about centring the Te Reo text of Te Tiriti.”

Te Waka Hourua spokesperson Haimana Hirini said the current exhibition misinformed people.

“The reasons why some people are espousing the rubbish about Te Tiriti out there is because official entities like Te Papa continue to hold on to a false narrative. They naturally think, well Te Papa’s saying it so it must be true and it’s not true.”

Another member of the group, Cally O’Neill, hoped the protest sparked further discussion about Te Tiriti.

“Why is it that we are focusing so much on the English version still.

“We see political parties that are upholding these colonial fictions at the moment, and it is creating some really dangerous situations in our community and building racism and division.”

Aotearoa Liberation League and Te Waka Hourua protesting at Te Papa yesterday over the English text of Te Tiriti o Waitangi displayed in the museum. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Aotearoa Liberation League and Te Waka Hourua protesting at Te Papa on 11 December, 2023, over the English text of Te Tiriti o Waitangi displayed in the museum. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

A draft that was never discussed - Professor Margaret Mutu

Professor Margaret Mutu who is a member of the Iwi Chairs Forum says the vandalism was a result of Te Papa not listening to pleas for the exhibition to be corrected.

She said she had contacted the museum herself on more than one occasion to try to have the exhibit removed but to no avail.

Professor Margaret Mutu Photo: RNZ / Leigh-Marama McLachlan

She described it as Governor William Hobson’s draft, his “wishlist”, and most drafts ended up being ripped up.

“It was never ever what was discussed or what was agreed. Now, you do not use a draft that was not agreed to and stand it up as something that has some standing; it has no standing.

“So why is it even there? What should be there is an accurate translation of what Te Tiriti [o Waitangi] meant.”

Professor Mutu did not wish to comment on the protesters’ actions. Some of them had contacted the Iwi Chairs Forum in 2022 on the validity of the exhibit, she said.

“The Iwi Chairs Forum was unanimous and said no - it is misleading, it is wrong information, it should not be there.”

She did not wish to comment on the timing of the protest, except to say it had coincided with the election of a new government which had said things that were “hugely offensive” to Māori.

“The very few rights we have been able to claw back in the last 50 years have been stripped away from us. So there is very heightened anxiety and heightened concern within the Māori world about what this new government is doing and this display at Te Papa only adds to that anxiety because it’s feeding false information to the public which the public have a right to rely on - yet the information is false.”

Te Papa Kaihautū defends exhibit

Te Papa’s Kaihautū or Māori co-leader, Dr Arapata Hakiwai, defended the exhibition on Checkpoint on Monday.

He said it did explain the critical difference between the Māori and English texts.

“The space was always there to be a centre of debate and discussion to provoke people into understanding that more but clearly the protesters felt otherwise.”

Te Papa has not said whether the exhibition will change as a result of the protest.

But Carwyn Jones said it was misleading for the museum to continue with the current display.

“It’s particularly important that this be addressed at this time when there is such important discussion around the place, the place of Te Tiriti, around te ao Māori as we respond to the government’s coalition agreements and the policy programmes that they’ve laid out.”

He hoped Te Papa listened to the protesters.