Tuesday 1 January 2008

Annette Sykes: The Sovereignty Debate? Has it been silenced?

by Annette Sykes

from Indigenous Intelligence Review

29 June 2008

The Central North Island tribes have reached a crossroads in their journey to protect their sovereignty and self-determination. In recent decades these highly articulate tribal nations have been leaders in a number of political, legal and economic strategies that promote the recognition of individual tribal entities as sovereigns enjoying government-to government relationships with the New Zealand Government. Their cries for self government having being made in forums from the Waitangi Tribunal through to the United Nations, and from the hallowed halls of political power in Wellington through to rank and file protests on the street and national hui in Turangi called to discuss the injustices of policies of the Crown that deny Maori their tino rangatiratanga.

These efforts and the sovereign status of tribes themselves has been attacked for many years by successive legislators with the spectacular Ruatoki raids of last year perhaps illustrating the depth of opposition that exists in the hearts and minds of the enforcers of state power, as responses that are neither pragmatic nor permissible in modern democracies of the kind that New Zealand settler state has promoted.

Bedeviled by contradictory pronouncements on their jurisdictional authority, and besieged by assaults on their tribal status, Central North Island tribes now face the threat of being swallowed up in "regionalization," if not eliminated altogether if they are not vigilant.

How so one might ask? The large natural groupings policy of the Crown has now subtly been adapted to one of large corporate entities. The regionalization debate that results raises questions about the scope of tribal jurisdiction in the Central North Island region, in which the territorial jurisdiction traditionally defined as the mana whenua or jurisdicitional authority of tribal groups is blurred and will be largely absent as corporate entities designed by the state but implemented by the new friends of the state, the co-opted brown largely male bureaucracy take control of the spoils of the modern war of words, the so called negotiated settlements, which have been muted by the quiet discourse with Treasury officials in the corridors of power far from the hue and cry of the tribal institutions on marae and wananga.

But what is emerging is more than an intellectual discussion around traditional concepts of boundaries, ahi-kaa and ringa kaha. What the Central North Island tribes will have to confront is whether the corporate models of management that are being installed over their lands are the kinds of tribal government models that their tipuna had in mind when they promoted the Whitu Tekau or the Komiti nui o Ngati Whakaue. Are these the kinds of tribal government arrangements that respect all rangatira in the tribal community women and children alike and ensure an active participation by those affected by decision making processes around land use and benefit distribution.

These developments threaten to make local tribal governments largely irrelevant in the modern context too in the provision of funding and services to their tribal members as decisions become more and more centred at regional and national levels, and have the potential to severely undermine tribal self-determination and the government-to-government relationship of tribes to the New Zealand Government if there are not immediate steps taken to ensure the accountability of the self-appointed management regimes to those that they purport to represent. What Maori themselves in the Central North Island need to also confront is whether these arrangements will deliver change to communities that are so desperate for revitalisation or will just be harbringer of a further death knoll that has seen the vast populations of the area travelling away from the embrace of their tribal territories to places in foreign shores to ensure that the well being of their whanau is maintained.

I felt compelled to respond today after reading a number of articles from both sides of the divide. Those that have joined the CNI, those that have been excluded from the CNI and those that do no want to be part of an initiative but have fallen in the cracks of tribal dissent and disharmony. What is concerning is that the debate has been largely framed around the legacy that the Treaty of Waitangi Settlements policies will bring to the peoples of the region rather than around whether those policies themselves actively protect the right of self government that was promised to Maori in the Treaty of Waitangi or transform that promise into one where Maori become players in a market driven philosophy centred on wealth creation rather than the health and well being of Maori communities.

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