Politics | Te Tiriti o Waitangi

One law for all? Or assimilation policies for Māori?

ACT leader David Seymour has proudly advocated “one law for all”, proffering ideals of unity and an end to race-based policies.

But indigenous rights advocate Tina Ngata says the coalition government is not seeking unity and instead is passing bills of assimilation.

Seymour has said Te Aka Whai Ora is an example of racial discrimination and NZ First leader Winston Peters has said it needed to be abolished to end separatism.

And so, after 18 months of its existence, legislation was pushed through by the new government to abolish Te Aka Whai Ora. That was just the start.

Last night 1News reported it had received documents revealing laws that will be reviewed, including at least 40 acts with Treaty of Waitangi principles clauses.

A review of all legislation including Treaty principles was part of the coalition agreement but the new documents state the government plans to replace or repeal all references.

The end of te Tiriti-led Te Aka Whai Ora

The Maori Health Authority Te Aka Whai Ora was created as a result of a kaupapa-based inquiry from the Waitangi Tribunal that investigated worsening health statistics for Māori as well as the” longstanding inequity and institutionalised racism within the health system,” as described on the Te Aka Whai Ora website, which is still in operation because the shutdown isn’t until the end of June.

The report found the primary healthcare legislation and policy breached Te Tiriti o Waitangi and failed to care for Māori health and wellbeing. Te Aka Whai Ora was aimed at directly addressing these inequities and providing better health outcomes for Māori.

Policies of assimilation are there to remove all of the cultural distinctiveness of one group and make them look like another group, so when you’re doing that in relation to our reo, when you’re doing that in relation to our cultural expression, when you’re doing that through education and history curriculum, those are policies of cultural eradication.

—  Tina Ngata

Grant Berghan (Ngāpuhi, Ngātiwai, Te Rarawa) from Health Coalition Aotearoa (a group of health organisations seeking health system improvements) said it had spent 20 to 30 years striving to set up something like Te Aka Whai Ora that would enable Māori to make a difference. Now, he says it will take 20 years to turn back the damage of this disestablishment.

The coalition government believes closing the Maōri authority will stop race-based separatism but the Public Service Association sees the disestablishment as an attack on mana motuhake and the ability of Māori to deliver health services for Māori in a way that works for Māori - this being a cultural difference. defines assimilation as the process of integrating into the language and culture of a dominant social group. Ngata points out that, (contrary to David Seymour’s post below), many Māori do not want to be assimilated into the dominant Pākehā system and that examples of this resistance, such as Te Aka Whai Ora, show this.

Photo / David Seymour's Linkedin

Breaches of te Tiriti and uncertain future

This year the Waitangi Tribunal has issued four urgent inquiries that claimed contemporary breaches of te Tiriti o Waitangi. This included the disestablishment of Te Aka Whai Ora, the coalition government’s policies impacting te reo Māori, the repeal of section 7AA of the Oranga Tamariki Act, and the referendum on Māori wards.

The coalition agreement under the new government includes a review of the future role of the Waitangi Tribunal.

The tribunal hears claims brought by Māori against the Crown alleging there has been a breach of the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi. The tribunal has limited decision making ability and is a standing commission of inquiry that makes recommendations, which the government may ignore.

It is more than just a failure to honour or uphold, it is also a breach born of hostility to the promise itself. Since the 1850s, Crown policy has been dominated by efforts to assimilate Māori to the Pākehā way. This is perhaps the most fundamental and pervasive breach of te Tiriti / the Treaty and its principles.

—  The Waitangi Tribunal in Oranga Tamariki Urgent Inquiry

Coalition members frequently refer to a “post-Treaty settlement” environment, which suggests they see an end to it.

The future of the Waitangi Tribunal remains unclear as does its very foundation as the coalition government also plans to review Treaty principles.

Earlier this year, Māori lawyer Dr Carwyn Jones said :“Given the fact all existing settlements were based on Treaty claims, “there’s the potential existing and future claims could be unsettled by those changes, on the basis that what was agreed to no longer exists. We would be back to the position before the tribunal was established, no constitutional mechanism for addressing Māori claims.”

Spectrum leading to genocide

Ngata, who sees colonisation as a global project, says: “At times like this, where we are witnessing such extreme colonial violence against Indigenous peoples in Palestine and Kanaky, it’s easy to forget that genocide exists along a spectrum of acts, including assimilative policies.”

Israel had been accused of causing genocide against Palestinians by no less than the International Criminal Court, which has issued warrants of arrest for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the leaders of the terrorist organisation Hamas, which kicked off the war by murdering 1200 Israelis.

Yesterday alone, Reuters reported Israeli forces bombed a tent camp in a designated safe zone in Rafah that was housing displaced Palestinians. Some 45 were killed, mostly women and children. The attack came after an order from the International Court of Justice to cease fire in Rafah.

In Kanaky there has been civil unrest due to electoral reforms that are believed to dilute the indigenous voice, derail the decolonisation process and stop transfer of power to indigenous Kanaks.

The BBC reported French President Emmanuel Macron saying the riots were an “unprecedented insurrection movement” and anti-Kanak-independence politicians have described the resistance as racist and undemocratic - although this dismisses the purpose of the Independence movement for Kanak self-determination.

Macron has said the 3000-strong force deployed from France will remain until necessary. The reform is still going ahead; it is just being delayed.

Ngata argues the continued breaches of te Tiriti and derailing of fights that Māori have long fought for is comparative with with what is happening in Kanaky.

“Recently you had MP Mariameno Kapa-Kingi being heavily criticised for saying that there are policies of Maori eradication.”

Ngata was referring to Kapa-Kingi saying the government “will not waver in its mission to exterminate Māori”.

“She’s been heavily criticised for that but, if you have a look at it, that’s exactly what policies of assimilation are. Policies of assimilation are there to remove all of the cultural distinctiveness of one group and make them look like another group, so when you’re doing that in relation to our reo, when you’re doing that in relation to our cultural expression, when you’re doing that through education and history curriculum, those are policies of cultural eradication,” Ngata says.

Raphael Lemkin was a Polish lawyer and activist who lost 49 members of his family in the Holocaust and coined the word genocide in 1944 to describe the deliberate attempt to wipe out a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group.

“Lemkin was very clear that policies of assimilation were used as tools for genocide and it was originally included in drafts of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide. Cultural genocide was then withdrawn due to the opposition from nations like New Zealand, Australia, and the US who rely on policies of assimilation,” Ngata says.