Prime Minister fails Treaty 101

The Prime Minister was lost for words – and, watching her, so was I. Two days out from Waitangi Day celebrations Jacinda Ardern was asked at a media stand-up if she knew what Article One of the Treaty of Waitangi actually said. She had absolutely no idea.

For the record the Maori version of Article One translated into English by Prof Sir Hugh Kawharu is as follows:

The Chiefs of the Confederation and all the Chiefs who have not joined that Confederation give absolutely to the Queen of England forever the complete government over their land.

The Prime Minister leads a government whose very basis is founded on this Article of the Treaty. The pre-eminent law-making authority of the Crown over all New Zealanders is established right here. It is astounding that Ms Ardern draws a blank when asked about it.

This is the PM who has established a new Office of Maori Crown Relations to facilitate the “journey from grievance to partnership”. However one has to ask what sort of partnership it will be when our leaders are ignorant of the most basic and crucial facts about the Treaty? Article One is hardly a minor detail. James Shaw the co-leader of the Greens was asked the same question and was equally blank.

The context of the media question was the issue of Treaty education in New Zealand schools. The ignorance of our leaders appeared to reinforce that more education was definitely needed. However it depends what sort of “education” we are talking about.

There can be no doubt that the PM and her colleagues have been well schooled in the new paradigm of Treaty interpretation that has become fashionable over the last thirty years. She would hardly be able to turn up at Waitangi and “talk the talk” without being very well versed in what now passes for Treaty knowledge. Yet in spite of this she doesn’t know what the Treaty actually says.

The Prime Minister’s fail this week shows we clearly need more education on the Treaty – but it needs to be education well-grounded in facts, not fashion.

Ewen McQueen
February 2019

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