Kotahitanga for rangatiratanga: The fight continues for te iwi Māori

Leading Māori activist and lawyer Annette Sykes has a warning for Māori - and one for the Coalition Government.

Speaking on The Hui current affairs show, Sykes told host Julian Wilcox that Māori needed "to be really conscious that there is a deliberate effort by a small group of politicians to develop white hatred against Māori".

She also warned the Coalition Government that Māori had been energised by their policy direction.

"There has been a groundswell of organisation post-Waitangi and the Crown should be very, very concerned because we haven't been silenced," Sykes said.

Sykes said she believed Prime Minister Christopher Luxon "spoke with a forked tongue" when he said he would not tinker with Treaty principles nor with Treaty settlements.

She said Te Aka Whai Ora - which was abolished by the coalition last week - was the result of a Treaty settlement.

Sykes warned Māori needed to be careful not to be distracted by what she described as 'cosmetic changes' proposed by the National-led Coalition Government.

"We've got to be really careful that the Crown wants us to look at things like the Treaty of Waitangi Principles Bill while they actually take resources through other ways," she said.

Sykes pointed to issues like fast-track consenting and changes to the deep sea environmental protections, aquaculture and marine licences that she said were taking away resources Māori own.

"So Māori need to be really clear. We need multiple strategies to be aware of that and not be diverted to the cosmetic changes that are being made," she said.

Commentator Shane Te Pou responded, "we ain't seen nothing yet, folks."

He said the Government was planning to enact economic policy based on austerity, and rising unemployment.

"If you've got 5 percent general population unemployment, you've got 8 percent in the regions, you've got 12 percent from Māori. Last time we had 12 percent from Māori ...  that's generational unemployment," he said.

Lawyer Piripi Winiata told Wilcox that for young people -  rangatahi who had grown up as the kohanga and kura kaupapa generation -  a huge part of the fight was about self-determination.

Winiata said self-determination was not just an academic argument but a practice.

"It's being exemplified by our leaders who are speaking about things like the role of good government, what that means in honouring Te Tiriti o Waitangi," Winiata said.

So far this year there have been three mass gatherings of Māori.

First, Māori flocked in their thousands to Hui aa Motu, responding to the call from the Māori King to unite. Then on to Rātana, and finally culminating at Waitangi where challenges from both sides were laid out on the ātea.

During his whaikōrero at Waitangi, ACT leader David Seymour - whose party's proposed Treaty Principles Bill has caused widespread disquiet - was heckled by protestors and nearly drowned out by waiata.

"...those people who think they can change those basic facts by singing over me, I got news for you, there's people up and down the country watching you and they're asking, why do those people have a right to stop the rest of NZ debating its own future," he said.

Toitū Te Tiriti protesters were among those singing him down, a tikanga employed on the marae if people disagree with what's being said.

"It's not just waiata up for the sake of waiata," organiser Eru Kapa-Kingi said.

"This is a political realm. I think a lot of us have forgotten as well, that the marae is the epicentre of politics for te ao Māori and always has been.

Now, a month on from Waitangi, is the movement running out of steam?

Kingitanga spokesperson Rāhui Papa says it's full steam ahead.

"I think that the momentum is growing and building. I think that the discussions and the wānanga are continuing not only on a national scale, but within various iwi and hapu and marae. They're talking about it around their breakfast table."

Rāhui Papa attended the latest National Iwi Chairs forum, held in Rotorua in late February.

His iwi Waikato-Tainui have moved the fight to the courts, with a legal claim to protect their 1995 Treaty settlement reached.

"We believe that there is some notion of unpicking some of those settlement mechanisms that were agreed in 1995.

"And part of that is te reo and we particularly think that te reo is a taonga guaranteed under Te Tiriti o Waitangi."

He adds this is a "die in the ditch kaupapa for Waikato-Tainui.

Professor Margaret Mutu, who has been fighting for iwi and hapū sovereignty for more than forty years, was also at the forum.

"When I hear politicians saying that they want to empower us to make our own decisions about our own lives, I want to take them at their word.

"We need resources back in order to be able to walk our own talk, to exercise our mana motuhake, give us back the resources. That's all we're asking."

She said after years of clawing back resources, government policy will strip it all back.

"It's certainly the worst of what I've seen in my lifetime."

The ACT Party is set to introduce a bill that would remove current references to Māori in the Treaty Principles, and instead, apply to all New Zealanders. 

Many iwi leaders agree something needs to change but not like this.

"The principles of the Treaty should never, ever have come into being," Mutu says.

"So as far as Māori are concerned, we only ever agreed to Te Tiriti o Waitangi. You do not need principles."

This is a view shared by the next generation of Te Tiriti advocates.

"So why would you need principles to simplify something that's already very simple? We never ceded sovereignty," Kapa-Kingi says.

They're taking their protest to new turf.

Toitū Te Tiriti co-organiser Hohepa Thompson says "I think after Waitangi we showed the Government that we can play in our field and in our grounds. We need to take this to theirs."

The draft Treaty Principles Bill has yet to be introduced to Parliament.

Regardless, these activists are prepping their next play.

"There's going to be some type of whawhai, he whawhai rangimārie anō (a peaceful fight) but probably will be in Wellington and that activation will probably happen in the next few months," Thompson said.

"It's pretty much game on."