Last week another four Treaty settlements had their final reading in Parliament. Among others, East Coast iwi Rongowhakaata and Ngai Tamanuhiri received Crown apologies and redress for violent and tragic Treaty breaches in the 1860s. The claims settlement bills passed quietly and unanimously. There was little media interest. Conflict is headline news (witness the recent controversy over asset sales and the Waitangi Tribunal). However justice and honourable settlement is not.
It is unfortunate, for such moments in the Treaty settlement journey throw up the best of what Parliament can be. It becomes a place of honour, respect, honesty, and humility. MPs from across parties contribute with dignity and sincerity. As the public gallery fills with waiata at the end of each final reading, one is left with an uncommon sense of hope and optimism for our nation.
There are few nations where such a journey has even been attempted. In the main deeply held grievances between peoples remain just that – deeply held, with occasional violent flare ups. Croatia, Serbia, Rwanda, Iraq, all come to mind.
Yet in this land of ours a painful history is being re-opened, re-told and to the extent that it is possible – resolved. It is a unique and wonderful journey that flows against the normal tide of human history.
Perhaps we should not be surprised. There is One who was a witness at the signing of the Treaty, who was witness for Rongowhakaata and Ngai Tamanuhiri, and who hears the petition each time the Parliamentary mace is carried into the debating chamber….
“Almighty God, humbly acknowledging our need for Thy guidance in all things, and laying aside all private and personal interests, we beseech Thee to grant that we may conduct the affairs of this House and of our country to the glory of Thy holy name, the maintenance of true religion and justice, the honour of the Queen, and the public welfare, peace, and tranquillity of New Zealand, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”