The Government goes to Waitangi this week expecting to be challenged on water, on Ihumatao, and on Whanau Ora. That is to say, they expect tribal leaders to challenge them on the issues of tribal control of water, the tribal control of land, and the direction of government welfare payments and welfare services through Maori tribal hands.
Ever wondered why, in a world that’s said to be about individuals and individual achievement, we still seem to have government support of a tribal system?
Thousand of years ago Polynesian voyagers set out into the vast blue seas to explore and occupy the South-eastern Pacific. Several eventually discovered and settled in New Zealand. And then for just over five-hundred years, isolated from the rest of the world, they developed their own culture. They became Maori.
So in that great migration “out of Africa,” New Zealand was the world’s last great land-mass to be settled by human beings. And then almost the last to be brought back into the worldwide division-of-labour.
This should be something to celebrate, no? Yet if the headlines are to be believed, the descendants of these former adventurers see their own great conquest as creeping tribal capture of the government chequebook.
Those early New Zealanders were welcomed into the worldwide division-of-labour by whalers, sealers, timber-traders and assorted wanderers and adventurers who offered Maori things for their labour they’d never seen before. And in return for tools, technology and new foods, they sold trees and flax and kumara, and crewed ships, built houses and travelled the world.
The treaty signed at Waitangi by tribal chiefs and a recently-arrived Royal Naval captain promised all these New Zealanders their own Emancipation Proclamation, and held out hope of liberating tribal serfs from tribalism. Instead, 180 years later, here we are barrelling down a path back to tribalism. Something Elizabeth Rata has called neo-tribalism: the intentional production of a neo-tribal elite who are busily “marching through the institutions,” in which they play “a decisive and self-interested role in controlling shifts in the interpretation of the treaty of Waitangi.” 
The result: the empowerment of a neo-tribal elite, in which tribal leaders have the upper hand again. And instead of the hope and optimism of those early adventurers, the predominant emotions now are shame and guilt — shame as a necessary precursor to this tribal shakedown.
Something clearly went wrong.
One reason is the way that treaty was written: hastily. It was written in just a few days by folk wholly unqualified to write a thing that some erroneously call the country’s “founding document.” It’s not that, and never has been. And nor does it contain enough to merit that description.
But what it does have is the material which the neotribalists have been able to exploit. One of which is the problem of ‘chieftainship.’
The problem of chieftainship
The problem is this: that instead of the treaty being written to protect individual Maori, it promised instead to placate tribal chiefs. It’s right there in the wording and in all the arguments today about rangatiratanga. It’s understandable. After all, it was their signatures the British Colonial Office was after before allowing colonisation here to receive their imprimatur. “Alive to the record of native extinction that had come with settlement in Tasmania and the Caribbean, and was threatened in Australia,” the treaty’s aim was to “recognise the rights of the Maori as subject in the agreement, with rights and interests to protect.”  But in placating those chiefs of the 1840s, instead of promoting individualism and recognising real individual rights, the document has helped promote the neotribalism of today.
It’s been argued — and I’ve been one of those doing the arguing — that the Treaty of Waitangi liberates individual Maori. It should have done — it should have treated all Maori as individuals instead of as members of a tribe. But it really does nothing of the sort except by implication.
Instead, as written, it cemented in and buttressed the tribal leadership and communal structures that already existed here — encouraging the survival of this wreck of a system until it morphing, as it has today, into this mongrelised sub-group of pseudo-aristocracy: of Neotribal Cronyism.
The problem was there from the start. Maori in 1840 paid more attention to oral discussion than to written documents, and there’s enough evidence to suggest those old chiefs knew what they were talking about, and what they discussed and what was read to them in 1840 was this :
The treaty’s preamble states the “concern to protect the chiefs and the subtribes of New Zealand” and the “desire to preserve their chieftainship.” Nothing in that to promote or protect individualism. Everything to protect the chiefs in their rule.
In Clause 1 the chiefs grant the Queen governorship — kawanatanga — over these islands. Non-chiefs, i.e., individual Maori, are neither asked nor recognised. Because they are not part of this agreement.
In Clause 2 it’s there again: protecting chiefs in their land, forests and fisheries. Specifically, protecting “the chiefs, the subtribes and all the people of New Zealand in the unqualified exercise of their chieftainship [their tino rangatiratanga]” over all their various treasures — and prohibiting their sale to anyone but the government. (Note that this does not protect or recognise full ownership or real property rights except by implication: after all, Maori of 1840 had no such concept, except perhaps for small personal possessions; no words for “owner,” so difficult for a translator to find one.
But they could express ownership for these small things at least — the preposition na for example (or sometimes no), meaning ‘belonging to.’  But this was not used. Instead, the agreement promised to protect only the unqualified exercise of chieftainship, something not available to “all the people of New Zealand,” even if they do get a mention, but only to those of that status. Only chiefs.
Clause 3, however, does promise to “protect all the ordinary people of New Zealand,” and to “give them” the “same rights and duties of citizenship as the people of England.” Not recognise rights, but give them — the gift of those who do exercise sovereignty by this treaty: the governor and the chiefs. So by then, the damage is done — and those with “a decisive and self-interested role in controlling shifts in the interpretation of the Treaty of Waitangi” are now able to interpret this not as a promise of individual rights (since earlier clauses and the preamble take precedence), but as the chiefs essentially holding the rights of their people in trust, and “Hobson being or becoming a ‘father’ for the Maori people.”
And “this attitude has been held towards the person of the Crown down to the present day, shaping (according to the self-interested neotribalists who now interpret these things) “the continued expectations and commitments entailed in the Treaty.” 
It’s evident from documents of the time that there was no direct intention to lock Maori up into that pre-existing tribal structure. That the intention was, as that last clause says, to recognise the same rights in every Maori as were enjoyed by all British citizens. But the treaty’s wording and practice has essentially limited those rights while elevating chiefly status. It’s the chieftainship, stupid. In other words: the problem is failing to properly recognise and protect individual rights — and instead to protect and nurture the status of those tribal leaders.
Is it any wonder today’s tribal leaders favour the perpetuation of the tribal structure? Any surprise that the feudal structure continues? Or that today’s neotribalists wish to continue benefiting from their feudal privileges of the past? With the government as “father” and taxpayer as today’s serf …
Poor drafting, poor treatment
Without a doubt, Maori were often treated poorly in those early days. But by not being properly recognised as individuals, by treating all Maori as part of a collective, there were few chances offered to change this trajectory. The poor draftsmanship of this treaty is reflected in the poor treatment of Maori in those early days.
As a rights-respecting commentator says of the treatment of native Americans in the United States of America, “it could have been done in a more rational way, a much more rights-respecting way, and in a way that would have led to a lot less violence at the end of the day.” (Later quotes are from this same source.) It could have been done here in a way that recognised Maori as individuals, with individual lives, rights and choices. But for the most part, it didn’t.
Yes, colonisation here was far less violent here than in Australia, or in the Americas. And thank goodness for that: It was still not entirely peaceful, but in the Americas and Australia it was savage — particularly if you think of how the British treated the Aboriginals in Tasmania, or the Spaniards treated the natives of South America. And in the case of America itself, “the American government made treaties with the Indians and then reneged on them whenever it was convenient to do so.” 
Not so much here, at least. The treaty signed here was offered with the best of intentions, and the poorest of drafting. It hardly lived up to the intention, and the neotribalists now exploit the drafting.
But the biggest mistake, the biggest ongoing tragedy — there, as here — is that the respective governments did not treat either Indians or Maori as individuals possessing rights. They treated them instead just as members of a tribe. Of a collective. Not as individuals with their own individual rights demanding recognition and protection, but as members of a tribe whose chief no longer held the power fo life and death, but still held the power of property, and of making choices for them all.
And therefore [in the United States] all the deals, all the negotiations, were between the U.S. Government and a tribe — a tribe who was fundamentally a collectivistic unit that was oppressing its individual members. And what the American government in my view should have done was in a sense annex the Indians into America, recognised their innate individual rights (the fact that every Indian like every human being on the planet has individual rights), protected those individual rights under the law, divvied up the property of the tribe among individuals (let American Indians own their own land, not just give it and have the tribes own reservations; the whole idea of reservations was a horrific idea).
They should have basically integrated Indians into American society: by treating them as individuals, by endorsing individualism among the Indians. And then, if the Indians then wanted to get together and live in a commune, then so be it. But the American government’s position should have been: “We are dealing with you as individuals. Here is your land; here is John Smith’s land; here is somebody else’s land… If you want to now unite those lands and do some collective-type stuff then that’s your problem. But here’s the benchmark: ‘We’re a country of individuals. That’s the principle’.” And instead, they didn’t do that. There was a lot of racism and there was a lot of just treating them as a collective and, as a consequence, slaughtering whole villages and so on.
Now, that is not to say that there weren’t a lot of American Indians (and a lot of indigenous people around the Americas) who were very violent and needed to be dealt with violently. I’m not criticizing violence when it was motivated by self-defense. I am however criticizing violence when it was not necessary for the defense of the European immigrants or settlers, and there was basically an attempt just to you know annihilate certain indigenous peoples. And again that happened more in Latin America than it did in the United States America. But it happened here as well. So you know it’s a tragic part of history and to some extent inevitable because it seems to happen whenever a kind of a civilization encounters barbaric tribes, barbaric peoples, that inevitably lands up in a physical violent struggle.
I think that particularly in the United States of America it could have been done in a more rational way, a much more rights-respecting way, and in a way that would have led to a lot less violence at the end of the day. 
Could it have been different? Yes. Yes, of course, it could. But shaming New Zealanders of today by the actions of people in the past is not primarily about history — the shaming of today’s New Zealanders is simply to precede and encourage their shakedown. That’s the effect of today’s neotribalism: to put taxpayers on the hook for the perpetuation of chiefly privilege.
In this new postmodern neo-tribal age, history doesn’t provide lessons from the past, it offers weapons. The neotribalists, and their enablers, are happy to pick them up and use them.
- Elizabeth Rata, ‘‘Marching through the Institutions’: The Neotribal Elite and the Treaty of Waitangi,’ Sites (December 2005)
- James Heartfield, The Aborigines’ Protection Society: Humanitarian Imperialism in Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Canada, South Africa, and the Congo, 1836-1909 (London, 2011) p. 126
- Te Tiriti: Translation of the te reo M?ori text by Hugh Kawharu
- Raymond Firth, Economics of the New Zealand Maori (Wellington 1972), pp. 338-366 passim
- Yaron Brook, ‘Q: To what extent was the European treatment of the indigenous peoples of America immoral?’ www. Peikoff.Com (3 August 2015).
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