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Wild Experiments in Colonial Government

A blistering take on the co-governance ‘debate’.

Wild Experiments in Colonial Government

May 3, 2023 Politics

Willie Jackson didn’t help matters last year. Approaching the Labour government’s defence of co-governance like a hard-boiled TV cop pistol-whipping a perp didn’t assuage bewildered white folk as to what the planned parameters were for a shared vision of Aotearoa New Zealand going forward. Why? Because Jackson didn’t exactly know either.

Work over the past few years towards resolving the tension between mono-, bi- and multiculturalisms using government-funded academics and government-funded iwi corporates — what could possibly go wrong? Inevitable Crown Law sabotage ensured as little as possible. The co-opted, maligned Māori ‘elite’ sitting at the co-governed table wondering if the reason for their presence was to ensure litigation was minimised must have despaired at the atrophy occurring under a blanket of jargon from Wellington which feigns substantive progress.

In the minds of many, the 2019 He Puapua report wasn’t some benign, nebulous, naive, scholar-led box-ticking response to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. No, it was the reluctantly declassified protocol from a clandestine conference. Minister for Māori Development Nanaia Mahuta presided over the ‘final solution’ of the white settler problem. Law professor Jacinta Ruru led the séance. Mahuta’s Mobster whānau minuted each ‘yes’ as seig! as their hands were dragged by enchanted pounamu P pipe from one side of the decolonisation ouija board to the other. Well, this was all according to social media — the rectal thermometers of the fevered Pākehā body politic aggravated by their insertion. Even worse, once Mahuta’s fearful, furtive conniving over Three Waters was exposed, from 2021 on, the Pākehā mind reflexively drew a Tremain cartoon and consequently the policy was goneburgers so quick it was 3am drive-through.

In January, current National leader Christopher Luxon casually peeled off some sanguine “macro thoughts” about partnership to the unmoved crowd at Rātana. It wasn’t that co-governance was bad at a local level or for Treaty settlements — no, those National policies are all good — but not big, centralised bureaucracies. Ditto David Seymour. “How do we honour it?” asks the Act Party leader of the Treaty. “It says that all people have the same rights and duties… I don’t think the Treaty calls for co-governance.” And ditto Winston Peters: “Co governance is just a radical social re-engineering ploy”.

Pākehā mythologies like these — like the recounting of heroes Sir George Grey and Richard Seddon and their unitary state, or William Hobson and his pledge of a unitary people — are modern classics in the retelling. Front of mind, before all the contradictory facts lurking behind, is the story of a unique Treaty where meaning is finessed to suit prevailing political winds and social situations.

No matter that the Treaty’s English version mentions only the “Rights and Privileges of British Subjects” being imparted to Māori, knowingly omitting the corresponding duties and obligations precisely because Māori were not going to be subjected to them. (On that understanding, Māori were not for many years compelled to militia call-ups or, later, conscription.) No matter that the Treaty is about as unique as the hundreds struck between the British and the states and tribal territories of India; the hundreds more made between the United States government and Native American tribal nations; the scores of treaties between the Canadian government and indigenous peoples; the treaties between Britain and the Malay states, the Pacific Island states and so on and so forth ad infinitum for Africa. No matter most of the 1000-plus English-language treaties of the 19th-century imperialist period were better in both the terms and operation for their indigenous rulers and people than the Treaty of Waitangi. No matter all this pointy-headed pedantry.

The majority chant their mantras against a choir of overwhelming facts — for example, a plain English reading of the three-article Treaty. The sky-high level of their credulity can only have been induced by existential threat. What else but survival instinct drove the judicial abrogation of the Treaty in 1987 by way of concocting self-serving ‘principles’ to displace what the texts actually say? The stay was meant more to preserve a Pākehā idea of New Zealand than to move towards a Māori idea of Aotearoa.

As a reliable conventional oral thermometer, Chris Trotter’s white-knuckle, wide-eyed columns (which now channel Kipling more than Keynes — half Rhodesian revenge fantasy, half requiem Zealandia ululation) plot a course of hyper-sensitive boomer introspection. They oscillate between pensive and reactionary, depending on the mood he believes exists at the Ferndale Cossie Club. Trotter knows the whites break right — like they did at Taranaki, Waikato, Ōpōtiki, Urewera and Parihaka; in 1912, ’51 and ’81; and all points in between. They grant co-governance begrudgingly and can ungrant it with alacrity. Native circuit court jurisdiction, Urewera General Committee come and gone each in a single generation.

But this century has seen a fatal compromise: to entirely premise the country’s wealth on immigration and thus doom Pākehā to a future plurality where their performative ethno-nationalist extremism is a quaint cultural relic from a smug, comically chauvinist people, not a veto at any level.

Dictating the terms of multiculturalism, by a mass immigration policy, is the least the rump can do for themselves to project long-range cultural hegemony, suppress the Māori population relativity and throttle the Māori parliamentary seats at seven when without immigration from 1990 it would be closer to a dozen at this election.

Edward Gibbon Wakefield, ‘godfather’ to New Zealand (in the same sense that, according to Ranginui Walker, George Grey was a “hitman”), whose New Zealand Company was the original co-governance partner with the Crown, formulated his definition of colony in A View on the Art of Colonization: “the permanent settlement of the emigrants on unoccupied land”. In his definition — as it was in John Key’s definition when he told viewers in 2016 that he believed New Zealand at its core was “a British colony” — the mode of government, including asymmetrical co-governance, is not crucial. Wakefield’s observation of 1849 that “the wildest experiments in colonial government” occur here remains true because the question of New Zealand remains unsettled.

This story was published in Metro N°438.
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