Accepting Waitangi Tribunal recommendations bottom line for Te Pāti Māori

Te Pāti Māori says accepting the recommendations of a milestone Waitangi Tribunal report is a bottom line for the party as it prepares for its election campaign.

Co-leader Rawiri Waititi has also warned other parties that if Te Pāti Māori has the power to choose the next Government and they're not interested in creating a Te Tiriti-centric Aotearoa, there's going to be "huge relationship problems".

But he's also confirmed the party remains "open" to having "mature conversations" with anyone about a "more balanced governmental system".

Ahead of Waitangi commemorations this year, Waititi spoke with Newshub about the Waitangi Tribunal report which has come out of the Te Paparahi o Te Raki (Northland) inquiry.

The document found the Crown breached the Treaty's principles by proclaiming sovereignty over the North Island and other parts of New Zealand and recommended the Crown apologise, return all Crown-owned land in the north to local Māori, compensate, and work with Māori to determine constitutional processes and institutions that give effect to what was agreed in the treaty.

While the inquiry has been considering claims about potential Treaty breaches in northern parts of New Zealand in the 19th century, Waititi said the "report can go across all iwi that signed Te Tiriti o Waitangi".

The report should be "honoured all across the country", Waititi said, and "also influence transitional constitution for Aotearoa with Te Tiriti o Waitangi at its core". 

"Nobody signed their sovereignty over to anybody… What that tribunal report does show is that Māori never signed over sovereignty," he said.

"It reinforces the aspirations and the foresight of our people who signed Te Tiriti o Waitangi for the protection of the pre-existing rights of Māori within the Te Tiriti o Waitangi."

He said Article 2 showed Māori were to be "undisturbed of our exclusive full rights to our estates, to our forests, to our rivers and to our taonga".

Rawiri Waititi.
Rawiri Waititi. Photo credit: Getty Images.

This is something Māori "have always known" so it is for "non-Māori and for the Government to now start to recognise the true intent of what our ancestors signed".

"So we can co-exist under the true Aotearoa they envisaged. This isn't about us having bigger rights over everybody else. No, it's the pre-existing rights that Māori already had prior to 1840.

"If we can look at, in an adult and mature conversation about coming together, creating a transformative constitution based on the Te Tiriti o Waitangi, to come up with an Aotearoa that's more equitable, equal, fair and just for everybody, as our people understood it to be, I think this country could be the best country on Earth."

Waititi said that involved "self-governance" of "Māori over our domain" and the "self-governance of Pakeha over their domain".

"What we've got is a system that continues to benefit one lot of people, a system that's created by one lot of people and has imposed itself on the indigenous peoples."

He suggests people think about it like a waka hourua, a double-hull waka.

"This is how our ancestors saw the relationship. On one side of that double-hull waka is rangatiratanga. On the other side of that double-hull waka is kawanatanga. Both peoples are represented. The thing that joins those two together is the Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

"That's the unity. That's not about separation. That's about acknowledging the mana of both kawanatanga, which represents the Crown and all its peoples, and rangatiratanga, which represents the pre-existing rights of tangata whenua here in Aotearoa." 

Waititi said if Te Pāti Māori had the "opportunity to choose who the next Government is" and other parties weren't interested in creating this Te Tiriti-centic Aotearoa, then "we're going to have huge relationship problems". 

"We want self-governance. We want to be able to govern ourselves."

He said it is "not only a bottom line, but it is honouring of both ancestors".

Te Pāti Māori have been holding steady at around 2 percent in recent polls. While that is below the 5 percent threshold, if Waititi retained his seat of Waiariki at the election, the party would still be in Parliament.

The latest Newshub-Reid Research poll this week showed Te Pāti Māori on 1.8 percent, down just 0.1 percent since the last poll. 

In some polls, the party has held the balance of power, meaning it can choose whether to support the left or right blocs into Government. 

"If those major parties and any other party in Parliament want to start working with Te Pāti Māori, who is there to ensure that we start to create a more balanced governmental system, then it is time for them to be able to have those mature conversations amongst themselves.

"We're open to have those conversations with anybody else. But we are positive that this country will start to move into that space."

Waititi referenced the party's Mana Motuhake policy, which includes commitments to establishing a Māori Parliament, entrenching Māori electorates, making Waitangi Tribunal recommendations binding on the Crown and overhauling the Te Tiriti settlement process.

The Government is yet to formally respond to the report's recommendation, but Kelvin Davis, the Minister for Te Arawhiti-Māori-Crown Relations, has welcomed it. 

"Time will now be taken to carefully consider and review the tribunal's findings; this is incredibly important mahi and we have to make sure we get things right," Davis said.

"From here, it will be important for the Crown to have a discussion with all Māori represented in the findings about how tino rangatiratanga might be expressed practically in the 21st century and how breaches of the Treaty might be remedied."

ACT Party leader David Seymour told Newshub the recommendations should be rejected as it could lead to New Zealanders' rights being thrown up in the air.