The State of the Māori Nation

Māori appointments to the judicial benches have significant constitutional ramifications.

Its Waitangi Day this week. Hope all your festive dreams come true.

The Mataatua Kapahaka Regionals are being held on February 6th and 7th in Ōpōtiki. Hosted this year by Whakatōhea, it will be a true celebration of Māori culture and language. There will also be a whānau zone to entertain the tamariki and rangatahi.

Waitangi Day is also a day of reflection. To consider the state of the Māori Nation and some of the constitutional progress we are making.

One of the major constitutional developments over the past year has been the Governments use of the appointments process.

Last year, we celebrated the appointment of the first Māori Judge, Sir Joe Williams, to the Supreme Court. Stand alone, this has been a significant milestone for all indigenous peoples across the globe.

But there has been a wider drive to appoint Māori judges across the legal system. Only a couple of weeks ago, 11 more Māori Judges were appointed to various District Courts. Their legal adjudication will provide a more responsive approach for Māori whānau in the court system. However, the collective scale of these appointments will also have an overarching impact on the way New Zealand’s jurisprudence will develop into the future.

Appointment of Chief District Court Judge Heemi Taumaunu, 19 October 2019, Whāngārā.

This strategy has also been used by the Republican Party in the United States. Despite the chaos and corruption of the Trump administration, their appointments to the judiciary will outweigh any previous administration to hold the presidential office. Despite less positive motives, the area of jurisprudence remains a key constitutional lever.

Our Governments approach towards achieving a more genuine responsiveness can be also seen with their appointments to key governance roles. Take the health sector. In December, Hon David Clark appointed 4 Māori Chairs to District Health Boards. These were accompanied by a number of Māori board members, including Leonie Simpson and Arihia Tuoro to our own Bay of Plenty District Health Board.

These combined judicial and governance appointments, that collectivise a systems approach, cannot be underestimated.

Another constitutional development has been under the banner of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This year will be the 10th anniversary since New Zealand moved to endorse the Declaration.

In March last year, Hon Nanaia Mahuta, announced the Government will develop a plan of action to implement the Declaration. This included a United Nations mission from the Expert Mechanism on the Right of Indigenous to collaborate on the plan going forward. Hopefully, announcements around this plan of action are not too far away.

Not all constitutional developments rest with the Government however. The occupation at Ihumātao and the speculation of an imminent settlement has major ramifications.

Under treaty settlement precedents, confiscated land that is now privately owned is not available to be returned. Cash compensation is normally offered and in some cases the land is listed on a first-right-of-refusal register so the Iwi can have first call to buy it back, if and when, it is sold by the private owner.

In the case of Ihumātao, the confiscated land is privately owned and sits outside the existing treaty settlement signed by Tainui. If a settlement was to occur, regardless of the gifting nuances, it will seem to overcome both precedents. Ultimately, it will run contrary to the clause “full and final” in all settlements to date allowing a more genuine redress to be pursued beyond the relativity constraints of Government policy.

Pania Newton, founder of Save Our Unique Landscape (SOUL).

Perhaps the more positive outcome of this occupation, even if a settlement did not materialise, is to be reminded of the art of occupation and presence as a form of activism and the fact that the leadership emerged from our younger generation and stood up to both Iwi and Government alike.

The Māori Nation is well and truly kicking and alive.

Published in the Whakatāne Beacon on 4 February 2020.

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