Te Pāti Māori wants a Māori parliament - it's not a new idea

Tom Kitchin for RNZ

Te Pāti Māori wants a Māori parliament. It's not a new idea

On Budget Day -- also a day of nationwide protest by Māori -- Te Pāti Māori co-leaders Rawiri Waititi and Debbie Ngarewa-Packer announced calls for a Māori parliament. 

But experts say this idea is nothing new. 

Margaret Mutu, a professor of Māori studies at Auckland University, has long investigated the best way for Māori to have proper representation. 

"All the way through you've always had Māori representatives coming together to discuss things," she says. 

"They were doing it in the early 1800s. They formalised that in 1892, what became known as the Paremata Māori, the Māori Parliament." 

Tuwhenuaroa Natanahira, a Māori news journalist for RNZ, says that even the announcement from Te Pāti Māori wasn't surprising. 

"It's not necessarily new, it's been part of their manifesto since they got into parliament," he says.

"But the time feels right to sort of re-invigorate that and say: 'Look, there is a want there, and a hunger for Māori to govern themselves in a way, or be more separate from the Crown'." 

Natanahira says this idea of a Māori parliament would be "an entity of governance completely separate from the Crown".

But what that looks like is up for debate. 

Today's episode of The Detail looks at why there are calls for a second parliament, what it might look like, and the history of Māori representation in Aotearoa.

"The idea of a Māori Parliament was put up by Bayden Barber from Ngāti Kahungunu," Natanahira says.

"He wanted to base it on the Māori parliament that was set up in his rohe back in 1892. The structure of that one - it's pretty loose right now - all of these ideas are still being discussed.

"Another one that came up was the establishment of a federation of Māori tribes - that one was proposed by Helmut Modlik - he is the chief executive of Ngāti Toa Rangatira down in Wellington. [There's a] different kind of structure with that one... on the idea which many tribes hold that they are independent nations, and so you come together in a congress and discuss contemporary issues."

Mutu explains the basis for these ideas, beginning when He Whakaputanga (the Declaration of Independence) was signed in 1835 and Te Tiriti o Waitangi (The Treaty of Waitangi) was signed in 1840.

"[British consul William] Hobson reassured the rangatira that they were not here to take the land, they were not here to take over the country," she says. 

"They were here to make sure that those who came here would behave themselves... Hobson himself did not mention anything about British sovereignty taking over," she says.

"Hobson, of course, was very disingenuous - because within three months of signing that treaty, he then issued a proclamation in May 1840, saying that the British had taken over the country, effectively declaring British sovereignty.

"The legal system, the justice system, the whole system you have at the moment is based on that proclamation. So Māori have time and again over the past 100 odd years, tried to go to the Pākehā courts over our land, over all sorts of things, and always been blocked by the existence of that proclamation."

Māori seats were introduced in his parliament in 1867, but Mutu says they were "always only ever included on Pākehā terms".

A Māori parliament (Te Kotahitanga) was set up in 1892. It had 96 representatives from across the country, met regularly in different places and it drew up legislation. But it was never recognised by the Crown. 

Today, nothing like that parliament exists, and many believe there's still nothing that meets the promises in He Whakaputanga and Te Tiriti o Waitangi. 

In 2010, an independent working group on constitutional transformation, Matike Mai Aotearoa, was formed, with Mutu as the Chair. That group wrote a report about what Māori thought this transformation could look like, which was released in 2016.

The report recommended iwi work together to come up with a structure for this transformation - and that's what's happening now.

Mutu hopes a model will be in place by 2040, 200 years after Te Tiriti o Waitangi was signed.

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