Dom Felice Vaggioli, one of the first Benedictine priests to be sent to New Zealand, arrived in 1879 and quickly became fascinated with the tangata whenua he encountered.
While on his evangelizing mission, he observed in meticulous detail in his journals what he described as the ‘abominable behaviour’ of the Britons in New Zealand, in stripping Maori of their land.
Such was the depth of his concern about the colonizing project, that he concluded his social history with a grim sense of pessimism, saying,
“The unfortunate Maori certainly have to use their wits to save themselves from the grip of the devouring serpent.
However, they will never succeed in freeing themselves from its tenacious coils and will eventually perish forever, overcome by its brutal force”.
I am eternally proud that the vision of those who have gone before me, the courage and the intellect, prevented such a chilling prospect from occurring.
They had a vision for the survival of tangata whenua as a people - and a vision also for the survival of people as tangata whenua.
Our tupuna used their wits and their wisdom to lay the foundation for future generations.
I mihi to their resilience, their foresight and their unity in holding dear to the principles of our sovereignity, our tino rangatiratanga.
Now in some circles, when I say sovereignty it creates a response.
But I know today, that I am in the company of activists for change.
I want to acknowledge the dedicated efforts of so many of our clergy and our faith communities who have fought the fight of social justice in Aotearoa.
I think of the leadership of the Ecumenical Coalition for Justice, comprising of members from most of the mainline denominations, and their campaigns to promote fair trade rather than free trade; to raise the heat about child poverty, to initiate projects on the Church and the Treaty.
I remember the solidarity of the Sisters of St Joseph during our 79 days, returning to our traditional pa site at Pakaitore, fighting to protect our rights to our land, to our river, to our Whanganuiatanga.
I think back to the Bishops’ Statements in October 2004, from Catholic and Anglican Bishops, including the late Archbishop Whakahuihui Vercoe and the late Pa Max Mariu.
I think of their brave leadership in drawing attention to the remarkable unity of the submissions from various church organizations, which consistently stated that the Government should not pass the Foreshore and Seabed Act. The Bishops concluded, and I quote,
“The Crown is required by the Treaty of Waitangi to act in good faith towards Maori, which must mean honest dialogue when their rights to property are at stake”.
Dr Lynne Frith, the President of the Methodist Church, followed with a statement that put all protest and petition into context:
"We regard the issue as a vital one for continuing healthy relationships between the Tangata Whenua and Tauiwi, who together make up this nation”.
And so, the pathway towards nationhood, towards validating and enacting the intentions of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, is a pathway that many of you here today, are already travelling along.
So where does Maori sovereignty, the call for self-determination, fit within this journey? I want today, to talk not so much about the meaning of tino rangatiratanga but more about how it can be exercised.
What does it mean to be self-determining? To have sovereignty is to have permanence. To survive, and to thrive.
What we have seen in Aotearoa has been the systematic removal of the foundations of our nationhood as tangata whenua.
The reconciliation of kawanatanga, as provided for in Article one of the Treaty, with rangatiratanga, as guaranteed in Article two, has not been honoured.
The authority between government and the unqualified exercise of chieftainship over our lands, our villages, our heritage, has been continually distorted beyond any points of meaningful dialogue, beyond any meaning of an actual bi-cultural partnership - which necessarily presupposes the continued constitutional existence of two cultures rather than one.
And yet the maintenance of the foundations laid for us by our ancestors, is still as relevant in 2008 as it was in 1840.
It has oft been said that our tupuna, would have never ceded the sovereign authority of our people.
No matter how powerful, how prestigious a Maori leader was, they would never think to cede the sovereignty of their people. They were, indeed, as we are today, entrusted to care for the ongoing authority for their descendants.
Judge Eddie Durie has described what he understands as sovereignity, by saying, and I quote:
“that indigenous people should be recognized as having status as the first inhabitants and should be enabled and assisted if need be, to determine their own policy, manage their own resources, develop their own structures of representation, and if need be, to negotiate policy affecting them with the state”.
I was thinking about that statement in the latest babble of media chatter, all speculating whether the Maori Party will go with red or blue. Our sole focus in life is actually bigger than the political mind-games enacted in the Beehive.
Our fervent interest is in the rebuilding and restoration of our foundations of nationhood so that we can be self-determining.
So what does this mean in an every day sense?
I will not presume to answer that question for whanau, hapu and iwi throughout Aotearoa – but I have committed to work towards understanding how we can achieve this - as Ngati Apa, Nga Rauru, Tuwharetoa, Whanganui.
Last July, our kuia Lillian Ruihi Manawaroa TeAweawe; and our kaumatua Robert Hina and Arikihanara Mare Mare, and my nephew Adrian Rurawhe, signed an Agreement in Principle with the Crown at Tini Waitara Marae in Turakina.
None of us are under any illusion that the settlement of historical claims is the solution for self-determination.
There was never any expectation that settlement would bring about a sense of justice served.
We saw the opportunity to restore our whenua stretching from Motukaraka south to Omarupapako and inland to the upper Rangitikei as an opportunity for our people to grow from the land from which we belong, to develop out of the whakapapa of our place.
It was a day in which the people of the Rangitikei, Turakina, Whangaehu and Mangawhero Rivers were able to plan for our future, to enable Ngati Apa nation to shape our own economic, social, cultural and political destiny.
But our nationhood resides not in Crown constructs, or legal documents, but within the philosophical framework from which we have been born.
The Maori Party recognises a set of kaupapa – values - including manaakitanga, wairuatanga, kotahitanga, mana tupuna, mana whenua, te reo, kaitiakitanga, rangatiratanga and whanaungatanga.
Together they represent the emphasis we give to creating effective relationships with each other, based on mutual respect. They restore to us a sense of collective responsibility, they remind us of the value of integrity, honesty and following through on commitments made.
It is throughout our concepts of sovereignty, our kawa, our mana torangapu – the power of and from the whenua – that we are able to stand tall in defending the sacredness of the whakapapa links between people, between lands, throughout the world.
We are driven by the hope and confidence that we can shape our destiny, that we can determine a future which embodies all that we want for our children.
I want to return to this sense of shock/horror associated with the concept of sovereignty and self-determination.
Thirteen years ago, nearly one thousand Maori from across Aotearoa gathered at Hirangi Marae in Turangi at a hui chaired by Maori Congress convenor, and my whanaunga, Archie Taiaroa.
At that hui, the paramount Chief Sir Hepi Te Heuheu told us that until the country had a constitution that allowed Maori to determine policies for Maori, there would be continuing disquiet and an ongoing sense of injustice.
Later during the hui, Kahungunu lawyer Moana Jackson, challenged the Crown’s decision to lump all settlements together in one fiscal envelope, saying:
“To settle the treaty requires more than just looking at land issues. It involves looking at all the issues of political power, constitutional restructuring and so on, which are part of the treaty. While the Crown says it wants to settle treaty issues, it is unwilling to face up to what the treaty is all about”.
I applaud this gathering today, for providing the space to do what the Government was unable to do in 1995, or 2004 or today; to face up to what the Treaty is all about.
Sovereignty is not a swear word. It is just a concept which puts into print our desire to be who we are, and what we are, with pride.
We, in the Maori Party, will continue to call for justice. We know that after dealing with injustice, healing and restoration is able to occur.
And through facing injustice, we can work together to achieve peace – peace in our homes, peace in our relationships with each other, peace of mind. When we have peace, then we can be unified as a nation.
The journey to get there may not be easy.
It may involve the challenge of decolonisation – freeing ourselves of the shackles of colonisation before we then restore to ourselves a system and constitution based on Maori values.
It may involve separate processes as the diverse populations and cultures of Aotearoa discuss their priorities and passions, whether it be Pakeha governance systems, constitutional change or their understanding of the meaning of Te Tiriti o Waitangi as it applies today.
My friend Moana Jackson tells me, that in the formation of the United States constitution, town hall meetings were established to discuss the values that would underpin their national framework.
He believes also, that tangata whenua are well positioned to lead this debate because in many ways the kawa on our marae – the rules and regulations underpinned by particular values – are an excellent basis for feeding into a discussion about the constitutional values that will give life to this Treaty.
The point is, that the discussion must take place.
In these discussions I believe the critical role that you have already played in shaping opinion will be much needed. The values you bring to the table, and the recognition you have always given to our founding constitutional blueprint, will help to create a future of justice, peace and unity.
I have great hope for our future survival, that tangata whenua will continue to live in regard for our tikanga and kawa, and that together, our nations in Aotearoa, will connect together, will respect each other, and will live up to the aspirations of all of our ancestors in signing Te Tiriti o Waitangi so many years ago.