February 21, 2022

Deepening our understanding of the Treaty relationship

A reflection from listening to the Ngāpuhi Nui Tonu claim to the Waitangi Tribunal

Susan Healy (Pākehā)

My ideas about the Treaty relationship were expanded when, in 2010 and 2011, I attended the hearing of the Ngāpuhi Nui Tonu claim to the Waitangi Tribunal ‒ which focussed on what their tūpuna intended in committing to He Whakputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tireni (1835) and Te Tiriti o Waitangi (1840). We heard there a view of this country’s history that is radically different from commonly-available writing, which is heavily dependent on settler interpretations. The Ngāpuhi Nui Tonu scholars started with their hapū’s history in the land ‒ a history informed by a profound philosophy, spirituality and the tikanga underlying traditional political and economic arrangements. We gained a real insight into what the hapū expected from the Treaty relationship.

As a contributor to Ngāpuhi Speaks, the independent report on the Ngāpuhi Nui Tonu hearing, I had to assess what the evidence meant for the Crown-Māori relationship today, and what is needed for positive relationships between Tauiwi and Tangata Whenua in general. By and large, the Pākehā community, in particular, has inherited a poor understanding of the values and expectations of the Māori world with regard to inter-community relationships and, hence, Te Tiriti. Our Western world is more focused on individual rather than communal advantage and is built on systems that favour monocultural dominance. I believe the fairness embodied in Te Tiriti o Waitangi means that Tauiwi and the Crown need to consider carefully what Māori intended in entering into the Treaty relationship and the values behind those intentions.

Establishing rightness of relationship between groups

The Ngāpuhi Nui Tonu speakers shared much that showed how right relationships are maintained between communities, whether people-to-people, people-to-whenua, or people-to-atua. I am not able to communicate the breadth or depth of what has been set out by the experts. What I will try to convey is the recognition given to the ground on which each community stands and how relationships of mutuality derive from this recognition.

To illustrate how this “ground recognition” manifests I will give examples that may be familiar. Those of us who attend Māori language classes are taught to introduce ourselves by naming our ancestor or ancestors, and then our mountain and river. Our place within a genealogy and in the land is established. Again, when any of us are welcomed on to a marae (tribal or community meeting centre), we take part in ceremonies expressing respect for the home people, their land, and house. Because we are coming on to someone else’s land, our leaders know we must follow the kawa (protocol) of that marae. In making us welcome, the home people in turn acknowledge the group or groups we represent and our places of origin.

At the Ngāpuhi Nui Tonu hearing I learned more about the importance of knowing where one’s people belong in the land, where land includes waterways and the adjacent shore and sea. For instance, Nuki Aldridge said:

I might look out to sea and know that I cannot fish over a certain line. I might also know that I cannot take animals that pass over a certain boundary…. I remember going to Taupo Bay to get kina [sea eggs] and fish from the ocean. When we went to a certain spot, my cousin and I were told “come back here, you can’t go there”. Later, I understood that we had a right under tikanga to go through a certain area, and that if we kept to this area other tribes weren’t allowed to touch us. That is our common law. [p103-4]

Nuki Aldridge’s explanations showed the clarity about boundaries and limits. If one wanted access to another people’s resource, whether of land or sea, then permission was sought or trading relationship agreed. The law was strictly enforced in former times and is still observed today. This is evident in the Māori Television programme Kai Time on the Road, where the cooks travel to different parts of the country to collect game and other foods for use in recipes. The blessing of the local kaumātua (elder) is incorporated as an essential part of each show. One can see how respectful entry onto another’s land engenders the building of relationships of mutuality and trust.

Māori vis-à-vis Crown political understandings

Māori respect for the ground of each community is reflected in a political order where the autonomy of each hapū and marae is valued. It is an order where authority is seen to come from the ground up, as Sir Edward Durie clarified in the F W Guest Memorial Lecture 1996:

The first [principle of traditional Māori law] is that political power was vested at the basic community or hapu level. Power flowed from the people up and not from the top down. Control from a centralised or super-ordinate authority was antithetical to the Maori system.

This order is quite different from Crown rule, which involves the centralisation of power and resource, and limited regard for the autonomy of local communities. In Dr Paul McHugh’s words: “the Crown’s sovereignty is regarded as absolute, unitary and unaccountable … it can never be shared with any other sovereign entity” [p. 273].

It is fair to say that, by contrast, the Māori order reflects the principle of subsidiarity, whereby “a central authority should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed at a more local level” (Oxford Dictionary). This principle recognises that keeping decision-making as close as possible to those whose lives it affects is fundamental to human dignity.

While upholding the independence of hapū, Māori also valued their interdependence. Hapū exercised their distinct authorities and formed alliances at multiple levels of connection and interaction. Thus, very early in the 19th century, the hapū of the North joined in an Assembly of United Hapū (Te Whakaminenga) to work out strategies for dealing with the increasing numbers of foreigners coming to their shores. Speakers likened the operation of the Assembly to that of the United Nations. Each hapū retained their autonomy but their leaders came together to develop policy and provide support on matters of common concern.

In 1835, Te Whakaminenga made a formal Declaration of Sovereignty (He Whakaputanga) to the international world. They did this to gain the recognition needed to advance the expanding interests of their hapū. In He Whakaputanga, they also expressed their commitment to the relationship of mutuality and trust that had been developed between the British monarchs and the Ngāpuhi rangatira (leaders). It is Te Whakaminenga (Confederation of Chiefs) which is specifically named in the Treaty text and whose assent to the treaty was crucial to the legitimacy of Crown authority in Aotearoa.

In assenting to the treaty, the rangatira of Te Whakaminenga were granting the British governor the authority he needed to take responsibility for the Queen’s people. The governor and his people were being given a recognised place within their established network of relationships. One of the leading speakers for Ngāpuhi Nui Tonu, Rima Edwards, explained that their tūpuna (forebears) expected that the governor “would sit as one with the chiefs” – not in a role of domination but in one of reciprocal care and co-operation. Edwards described the Treaty relationship as a sacred covenant, where each party was to stand as a support to the other [p. 149, 150].

Unfortunately, the British who entered into the Treaty with Māori were imbued with convictions about the superiority of their systems. They were not geared to finding out what the Indigenous peoples intended; nor did they understand the value in an order where each community retains its autonomy and forms relationships of mutuality from that base. In the years following the signing of the Treaty, the Crown set about establishing a regime of unitary dominance, supplanting the authority of hapū in the land. This has left a heritage of wrong we are still trying to address. If as Tauiwi we are to be part of addressing these wrongs, it is important that we deepen our understanding of hapu, iwi and hāpori intentions for the Te Tiriti relationship.

Brief afterthought

There are many forums today in which we can see at play the historical tensions around the Te Tiriti relationship. Many of the recent letters to the NZ Listener have been determined to prove the superiority of Western “Science” over Mātauranga Māori – with little or no knowledge of the latter. After an ongoing barrage of these letters, I was relieved when, at last, the Listener published an editorial (8 January 2022) by Nicola MacDonald and Pippa Coom on “Saving Our Seas.” It provided an excellent example of how science from a Western tradition and Māori knowledge and practice have been brought together for the restoration of the Hauraki Gulf ecosystem. To me this is a living example of what the Te Tiriti relationship is about. It aligns with the intentions of the Rangatira who signed Te Tiriti o Waitangi: that Indigenous and Settler would work together to the benefit of their different peoples, the good of the land and the overall common good.

This blog is based on “The Treaty relationship and grounds for fairness” (2014). In N. Darragh (Ed.), But is it fair? Faith communities and social justice (pp. 87–94). Auckland: Accent Publications.

November 14, 2021

Ngāpuhi Speaks and government history websites

By Dr Susan Nemec

Recently, I was a co-facilitator of a reading group that discussed Ngāpuhi Speaks, an independent report summarising Ngāpuhi evidence from the initial hearing of their 2014 Waitangi Tribunal claim.  Written by a group of independent observers of the hearing, it records and comments on the oral histories of Ngāpuhi kaumatua and kuia, and the contributions of Māori historians and academics.

The reading group participants read and discussed over several weeks the historiographies of the various events that led up to the 1835 He Whakaputanga (the Declaration of Independence- officially acknowledged by Britain on 25 May 1836), and its intrinsic links to a subsequent treaty signed at Waitangi with the British Crown in 1840. Te Tiriti essentially built on He Whakaputanga, rather than replacing it, and many Ngāpuhi rangatira signed both.

Māori understood te Tiriti o Waitangi (also known as the Treaty of Waitangi, the formalised version of the English language draft)  as a treaty based on the continuing assertion of Māori independence and sovereignty, a concern for ongoing peace and stability and the advancing of their trading interests , together with a basis for a sharing of power and authority (Māori Law Review, 2014). All of the Ngāpuhi claimants dismissed the English version as irrelevant, because it was neither understood nor signed by their tūpuna. The weight of the evidence presented at the Ngāpuhi hearing led to a declaration by the Waitangi Tribunal in November 2014 that the signatories of te Tiriti o Waitangi did not cede sovereignty.

This was the second time our Ngāpuhi Speaks reading group had been run and like previous times, many participants confronted the myth that Māori voluntarily ceded their sovereignty in te Tiriti o Waitangi. This myth still pervades Pākehā discourses about the constitution and national identity, and implies that Māori loss of land and mana was simply a result of misunderstandings of the meaning of sovereignty between the English version and the Māori text.

During our 10 weekly meetings, as various members read the chapters of  Ngāpuhi Speaks, with some doing a little independent internet research, we found discrepancies between what we were reading and what was written on government websites such as NZ History and Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. These official sites fail to engage with Māori history, law, and motivations for signing te Tiriti, which further legitimises the current exercise of the Crown’s sovereignty.

This myth that the treaty ceded sovereignty is also part of a broader narrative. It supports the continued reluctance of Pākehā to engage with the violent realities of colonisation. It also makes it difficult for Pākehā to engage in genuine conversations about how the treaty should be reflected in constitutional arrangements.

The Government history websites are preoccupied with narratives of mistranslations of the Treaty. Te Ara in its section Nga Take Maori – government policy and Māori blithely explains, after briefly describing the different translations, that these differing understandings eventually led to warfare.

How can mistranslations and misunderstandings justify the Crown’s land acquisitions under laws such as the Native Land Act (1862,1865) and the NZ Settlement Act (1863), its violence and invasions, its imposition of institutions, laws and values, and its attack, as Moana Jackson describes, “on the indigenous soul”? The 1835 Declaration of Independence was acknowledged by the British Crown, and Māori rangatira never signed the English version. They most certainly would never have signed away their mana as to do so would have been politically untenable and culturally incomprehensible (Jackson, 2014).

An example of how the NZ history website fudges Māori history in its description of what rangatira understood they were signing in te Tiriti is an unsubstantiated statement says, “some Māori believed they were giving up government over their lands but retaining the right to manage their own affairs”. After reading Ngāpuhi Speaks, we found the way this site glossed over the context of He Whakaputanga, and Māori understandings of te Tiriti o Waitangi, misleading, especially after the Waitangi Tribunal in 2014 had affirmed the evidence of the Ngāpuhi hearing.

Using another example from the Waitangi Tribunal’s consideration of Ngāpuhi evidence, there is clearly a need to update discussions of what are called the Principles of the Treaty. While the Tribunal’s empowering legislation binds it to consider the treaty as comprising of two texts, in deliberating on Ngāpuhi evidence, the Tribunal still considered that the Māori text should be given “special weight … in establishing the treaty’s meaning and effect” because it was the text that was signed and understood by the rangatira. They also stated that “in the case of any ambiguity between the two texts”, “significant weight” should be placed on the Māori text. This emphasis on the Māori text is evident in the Tribunal’s overall findings about Māori sovereignty, and arguably should be applied to discussions of the Principles of the Treaty found in the NZ History webpage about differences between the text in te reo and the English version. This website is also another example of the way the signing of the treaty is described without the context of He Whakaputanga, and without mentioning that no rangatira signed the English version on February 6, 1840 and that Captain Hobson, signing on behalf of the Crown, signed Te Tiriti, the Māori text.

We found further examples of the whitewashing of Māori historical narratives in the depiction of Busby’s role in He Whakaputanga and the choice of the Māori flag. While he facilitated the international recognition of  both the Declaration and the flag, the NZ history website does not acknowledge that it was the rangatira who debated and recrafted the Declaration at a council of chiefs (te Whakaminenga) and it was the rangatira who initiated the flag.

Ngāpuhi Speaks concludes that He Whakaputanga was truly a rangatira proclamation and It was the desire of the rangatira to have their mana internationally recognised that led to conversations with Busby and others. It was drafted by Maori, not Busby,  and developed through a process of dialogue between Ngāpuhi rangatira,  Busby and others until a final version was agreed upon. The subsequent document, He Whakaputanga, was signed by 34 rangatira on October 28, and another 18 around the motu in the next four years. The Tribunal found that because only He Whakaputanga was debated, and only he Whakaputanga was signed, the Māori text must be seen as authoritative. However, the NZ history website ignores the extent of Māori involvement and agency.

Turning to Busby’s role in the United Tribes Flag, Te Ara firmly places Busby as being the initiator of the idea and design of a flag in response to the ship George Murray (partly owned by Māori) being seized in Sydney for not being registered. As New South Wales was the major trading market for Māori, boats were subject to British navigation laws which included flying a flag.

Nothing could be further from the Ngāpuhi account of the choosing of the flag. Ngāpuhi chiefs went to Sydney in 1831 and asked the authorities to allow Māori trading ships to fly a flag that would be internationally recognised.  The rangatira, Patuone and Taonui, had three examples of flags made up, brought them back from Sydney, and presented them to all the rangatira to make a decision.

How can there be such varying accounts of historical events? Underlying Pākehā attitudes of colonial superiority and the placing of the colonist as the protagonist in the story of Aotearoa, drive the narrative in favour of the colonist. Māori academic Manuka Henare observes that New Zealand historiography tends to see events as individual and unconnected. A Māori approach places events within a longer narrative and weaves in the context of various events and the stream of ideas around at the time. A position of cultural superiority sees the colonial narrative of history foregrounded.

It is concerning that these official government websites, and the colonising discourse they articulate, are used by students and teachers in schools and tertiary education and anyone interested in NZ History.  To  my mind the narratives of many of these sites reads as if it is Māori who are the antagonists in history. Sites such as the ones I have discussed have a continued role in shaping the paradigms and discourses of our society’s institutions and structures, and the everyday attitudes of civil society.

We should all challenge these government educational websites to include new Māori histories that have been incorporated into Waitangi Tribunal hearings. Such histories should be included into the continued shaping of our nation’s historical narrative.

October 20, 2021

Looking back, looking forward: Parihaka

And tips on how to teach it, by Wendy Fowler

Go, put your hands to the plough. Look not back. If any come with guns, be not afraid. If they smite you, smite not in return. If they rend you, be not discouraged. Another will take up the good work.’ Te Whiti o Rongomai, Parihaka

November 5, 2021 marks 140 years since Parihaka was invaded and destroyed. As we anticipate the commemoration of events that occurred at Parihaka on that day, let us stand alongside tāngata whenua as they remember this historic event.

On November 5 in 1881, 1,600 volunteers and soldiers of the Armed Constabulary invaded the peaceful and thriving settlement of Parihaka, established by Tohu Kākahi and Te Whiti o Rongomai. The attack was spearheaded by Native Minister John Bryce, who had long touted the settlement as a hive of fanaticism.

Parihaka is nestled close to Mt Taranaki on the west coast of Aotearoa, an area of rich soil and abundant rain. As a result of illegal Crown confiscation of land since the early 1860s, many Māori had been left landless. Parihaka, at the foot of Mt Taranaki, became a place for disenfranchised and landless Māori. Its foundation was the biblical tenet ‘Glory to God, Peace on Earth and Goodwill to all Peoples’. These ideals were enacted through peaceful resistance campaigns against land confiscations along the west coast of the North Island during the 1870s and early 1880s. Government workers would survey confiscated land for selling to settlers. At night Parihaka residents would build fences and plough the surveyed land, preparing it for cultivation. This was their firm and pacifist stance against land-grabbing by the Crown. The ploughmen were arrested and held indefinitely without trial. Other ploughmen took their place with identical results. When prisons in New Plymouth, and later Wellington, became overcrowded, ploughmen were sent down to the much colder city of Otago. Many died.

By 1881, Native Minister Bryce, with the help of settler media, engineered the destruction of Parihaka. As the soldiers entered Parihaka, they were met with baskets of bread, waiata, and poi performed by daughters, mothers and grandmothers of those who were imprisoned. These same women were brutalised during the invasion. A five-year military occupation began, destroying homes, crops and livestock. Leaders Tohu Kākahi and Te Whiti o Rongomai were arrested, as were many Māori men.

Further suffering occurred when non-Taranaki Māori were expelled from Parihaka and Parihaka was confiscated, creating utter loss for the 3,000 residents who had sought peace and safety in violent times. These actions by government clearly contravened Article 2 of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, where the Queen agreed that Māori keep their independence and keep control over their lands and everything that is important to them. More than a century later, in 2017, the National government acknowledged the violence and destruction of Parihaka.Kaumatua Ruakere Hond, a member of the Waitangi Tribunal, was key in brokering reconciliation between the people of Parihaka and the Crown in 2017. Five years earlier he said: ‘’The war hasn’t finished. People aren’t falling from muskets. They are falling from youth suicide, alcohol, drug abuse, chronic poverty, intergenerational poverty. There is still a long way to go.’’(Caritas, n.d., p. 3) The Crown’s Deed of Reconciliation (2017) included an apology for the rape of many women, and the resulting outbreak of syphilis amongst Parihaka women

How have we moved forward since then? What can we learn and how can we work together for healing and reconciliation in Aotearoa New Zealand?

In 2019 Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that New Zealand history would be taught throughout all schools from 2022. This was a welcome step. With this in mind how could educators ensure that they are well-informed? Perhaps some pondering over the story of Parihaka is a start. It should be apparent that primary and intermediate teachers cannot teach the violent details without strong objection, yet much of the story can be told and told well.

What could be taught in the junior primary, senior primary and intermediate sectors? Below are some brief suggestions:

Year 1 and 2 – Kia kaha: Be strong and stand up for fairness.

Year 3 and 4 – Manaakitanga: Baked bread and waiata for the troops. Kindness as a way of life.

Year 5 and 6 – Whanaungatanga: How Tohu Kākahi and Te Whiti o Rongomai created a peaceful base for landless Māori. OR Mana: Tohu Kākahi and Te Whiti o Rongomai – Who they were and what they stood for. Tree planting as a way to commemorate Parihaka’s heroes.

Year 7 and 8 – Peaceful protest: Changing the face of Aotearoa and the world.

How will we commemorate Parihaka in 2022, I wonder? As Aotearoa becomes acquainted with our shared history we may realise that commemorating Parihaka on November 5 may be preferable to celebrating a British holiday about Guy Fawkes. In the words of Dame Tariana Turia (2018): “I think that it’s totally relevant for us to choose to commemorate Parihaka as a very significant place and its significance in peaceful protest against the Crown.” (Te Ao Māori, 2018, para. 3.)

I am hopeful that Parihaka will become the preferred commemoration, especially as Aotearoa New Zealand prepares to roll out the teaching of history in all schools in 2022. I know that learning about our history can be confronting, for both Māori and non-Māori. I am convinced that these shared stories will also be life-giving as we look at each other with a different sense of knowing.


Alistair Reese. (n.d.). Parihaka Day 5 November.  

Caritas, Remembering Parihaka

Lambert, Ron, Taranaki region-Māori–Pākehā conflict’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand.

Ruakere Hond, (September 2012). Parihaka, Caritas.  

Te Ao Māori News (2018), Remembering Parihaka, not Guy Fawkes.

September 27, 2021

The violence in colonial naming

The Māori Party is asking us to sign a petition that our country’s official name be Aotearoa, and that there be a return to Māori place names throughout the land. Last year, I wrote an article on “Symbols of Injustice” which dealt with the naming of places in this country. It seems a good time to revisit some extracts.

When testifying to the Waitangi Tribunal about pre-1840 acts of violence to his people, Nuki Aldridge, Ngāpuhi kaumātua, noted the renaming of land as the first violence. Often the renaming was based in ignorance as when Cook gave the name Poverty Bay to a large, rich bay on the East Coast, quite simply because he had been unable to obtain food there. Cook reached this conclusion, said Aldridge, without making contact with the people who actually lived there. “By what right did Cook ignore the original names and overlay them with his own,” asked Aldridge. “And by what right did those who followed him make Cook’s names the official ones?” “This,” said Aldridge, “was the beginning of the process of separating us from our whenua [land]” (Affidavit to the Waitangi Tribunal, 28 May 2010).

That poignant phrase – “separating us from our whenua” – refers not only to the huge physical loss of land but also to the breaking of whole sets of relationships that bind communities to their lands and lands to their communities. In these relationships, names are vital … Every corner of the land has a story, a song or a saying connected with it. Thus, place names carry vital connections into a hapū’s history, literature, relationships and identity, as well as acknowledging special characteristics of the land itself. The connections are all diminished when colonial names are planted on top of the indigenous ones and then officially endorsed as the names by which these places are to be recognised (Listening to the People of the Land, pp. 28−29).

Another facet of this situation is the fact that many of our towns are named for people who have a very tenuous link, if any at all, with the places bearing their names. What is more, some of these people have shameful histories as colonisers. Simon Wilson pointed to, among others, (Thomas) Picton who was known as “the Tyrant of Trinidad,” (Warren) Hastings “another scoundrel of the empire”, Clive of India who committed many atrocities while accumulating a large personal fortune, and (Lord) Auckland who sent “tens of thousands of people to their deaths in Afghanistan” (NZ Herald, 20 June 2020). As someone raised in Auckland, it has puzzled me that we were told nothing about Auckland and his career. Perhaps not surprising but disturbing, too! It suggests that colonisation in our country has involved the suppression of a great deal of history, both Māori and Settler.

From Susan Healy, “Symbols of Injustice”, Tui Motu InterIslands, Issue 251, August 2020

September 14, 2021

Playing fast and loose with New Zealand history

Letter to the New Zealand Listener, February 7, 2021

I want to draw attention to several revealing flaws in John Robinson’s carefully crafted argument that all persons living in New Zealand should be treated as if they were the same (Becoming One People, Listener, February 6). Firstly, he blithely assumes that the nineteenth century model of ‘nation’ that underpinned European nationalism then and into recent times, works universally. With others who espouse such homogenisation, he promotes that specific cultural model as the only possibility. And, like those others, displays the colonising mindset that considered it proper to superimpose foreign practices and institutions while pushing indigenous peoples aside. History’s judgement will be that this model has routinely fostered rancour and division in Europe and wherever it has been imposed. In Aotearoa New Zealand we should all be looking for new possibilities that do not require peoples to surrender their cultural identity just to be accepted and respected.

Secondly, Robinson grossly misrepresents the northern Rangatira’s call for the British king to control his people as requesting British intervention in “the explosion of tribal fighting”.  Such fighting had always been resolved, as this eventually was, within Māori tikanga, whereas the King’s trouble-making people were setting themselves above and apart from Māori authority. As part of his argument, he provides a high-end guess at the number of deaths caused by the musket wars.  There are major difficulties with any such estimate, caused by the uncertainty about the total Māori population in 1800 and the tendency of British to overestimate both the number of Māori involved in such fighting and the extent of their casualties.

Thirdly, Robinson depicts Governor Grey as responding to aggression. Yes, he did erect a monument to Rewi Maniapoto, but Grey began his second term as Governor determined to destroy the Kingitanga because he saw it as resisting British sovereignty. To that end his reports to London constantly talked of threats to Auckland, enhancing the credibility of those threats with exaggerated accounts of raids. Troops and finance from Britain enabled him to create a supply route, the Great South Road, and as it neared completion, he demanded Māori living on their land, in what is now Franklin, to surrender their arms and sign an oath of allegiance to Queen Victoria or leave and join the Kingitanga.  The evidence is clear; Grey and his settler parliament were the aggressors, and subsequent governments have done little more than to occasionally assist Maori to assimilate into the ‘one people’ Robinson espouses.

Raymond Nairn

September 12, 2021

TTW letter to the NZ Listener July 2021

This Listener chose not to print this letter.

July 27, 2021
The Editor, New Zealand Listener

As scientists ourselves we disagree with the attack on mātauranga Māori effected under the cloak provided by a claim to be writing ‘In defence of science’ (July 31, 2021). Central to the practice of the science, that the writers claim is universal, is the strict separation of the scientist from the object, topic or reality being studied. That disjunction between practitioners and what they studied contributed to an explosion of technological advances across Western Europe and those advances aided the exploitation and colonization of other countries and peoples. As if buoyed by those triumphs, the separation of the (would-be) knowers from what they sought to know about became the hallmark of a science expected to deliver universal truths about the natural world, its peoples and societies.

Coupled with a readiness to constantly subdivide and isolate elements of the complex systems being studied this science simply ignored and, for the most part, continues to ignore, the role of scientists and other humans in those dynamic systems. The result is that the very practice expected to provide reliable knowledge creates a distortion because this form of science assumes that practitioners can step apart from the human activity of which they are necessarily part.

In marked contrast, through disciplined observation and experiment mātauranga Māori, and other systems for systematically studying how the world, physical, natural, and social works, recognise our human participation in and relationships with other parts of the complex, dynamic systems that we so desperately need to understand.

Dr Raymond Nairn
67/1381 Dominion Rd Ext,
Mt Roskill, Auckland 1041

Dr Susan Healy
81/38 Golf Road
New Lynn, Auckland 0600
On behalf of Tamaki Treaty Workers

November 12, 2019

Notes on the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care

By Mitzi Nairn

Abuse In State Care Logo



I attended the opening day and the third day of the inquiry session in Auckland, along with several members of the Auckland Committee on Racism and Discrimination (ACORD), a group from the 1970-80s. We attended to support Oliver Sutherland, who was giving evidence based on ACORD’s work and his ongoing research.  At this stage the inquiry was developing the context so the commissioners would be better able to understand what survivors would be telling them. The inquiry is a response to repeated calls to make these experiences public, and ensure that such things never happen again.

The first witness, Judge Carolyn Henwood, presented a summary based on her long experience of inquiring into state care, hearing from previous inmates and people in prison telling about their lives and the effects of their time in the care of the state. Children, especially Māori children, going into state care have entered a ‘pipeline’ leading to prison. I felt unutterably sad because it is 40 years since ACORD helped to set up a People’s Hearing about children in state custody when it proved impossible to get any response from the government of the day. Maybe the names of the institutions, the workers involved and the dates have changed, but the story and stories haven’t.

All governments have proved intransigent and didn’t want to know. While there have been previous official inquiries, none have brought actual changes, none have been picked up by media, and none developed into public demand for real change.

As a society, we don’t really care about children; that’s probably why we tolerate so much domestic and family abuse. Once a child is “in care”, we have even more reason not to care. I don’t think it’s because we assume that the child is now being cared for, I think it’s because we can now put the child into the category of “bad child”. We ignore that the child might have got there because of “bad parents”. The child was probably “in trouble” – with the police, with school, “disturbed”, “unmanageable” maybe “a runaway”. So she or he deserves the consequent situation, is somehow now undeserving of a safe and satisfying life. Out of sight, out of mind.

What we learnt from ACORD’s hearing

One of the things pointed out by education psychologists in 1979 was that although truanting from school may often have been the main factor getting the child into trouble, education in many of the homes was haphazard, and only aimed at very low levels; and solitary confinement denied all access to it, or reading material or even comics.

I vividly remember at the ACORD inquiry a specialist in international law pointing out that many of the treatments used in some of the homes would be in breach of the Geneva Convention on the treatment of adult prisoners of war. These included beating, or forcing exercise to exhaustion; worst of all, solitary confinement for prolonged periods in a stripped cell (i.e. without any stimulus at all).

Modern psychologists consider that prolonged solitary confinement without any stimulus is likely to cause psychosis, especially in children. It is a tribute to the resilience of many children that they managed to survive. Often they were mainly sustained by inner rage and maybe disturbed – but what and who disturbed them?

Sexual abuse

It is clear to me now that in 1979 we overlooked sexual abuse. It didn’t occur to us to ask some questions. We had learned that the children assumed that we (and all adults) knew what went on. So they answered direct questions, probably with some puzzlement that these adults were asking about things we already knew. But they didn’t volunteer information. There was probably shame involved also, because what had been happening to them was not only painful but also humiliating.

We failed to pick up that most of the homes were actually safe havens for abusers. I think the majority of the abusers were rapists, but I hesitate to use the label paedophile, which suggests preference in relations and the possibility of affection, whereas what went on were acts of violence and domination.

We did recognise that girls were shamed and humiliated, such as by having to ask male wardens for toilet paper and sanitary towels, which were issued one at a time. Sometimes toilet paper was issued one square at a time. Girls were often crowded into cells where there was no privacy and meals had to be eaten near open toilets. At the Inquiry we heard about frequent vaginal inspections being carried out, even on prepubescent girls, after any time away from the home.

The costs of state abuse

At this Inquiry I became acutely aware of the immense costs and losses to our society. Hundreds of people turned into prison fodder. Adults poor at forming relationships, because they had no consistent experience where they could learn relational skills. (At the ACORD inquiry we heard that for many of the boys the only people in the homes from whom they had felt any warmth were the -frequently Māori – kitchen staff.)

Hundreds of people had unrecognised and untreated Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  People’s lives were blocked at rage, expressed in violence.

Hundreds of people might have been educated effectively so that they could hold jobs and contribute to society. Some could have excelled in higher education. We know this because of the relative few who have managed to move on, usually later in life, to roles of leadership and community development.

The sheer numbers are staggering, adding up to thousands of children in care every year.

The impact on Māori children

More than half of those children were Māori. At every point they were more likely to enter the pipeline  from being in areas with more police monitoring, being picked up, taken into police custody, prosecuted, remanded in custody (in police cells, often with adult prisoners), and sent into care. In the homes there was no cultural support, cultural education nor development of positive identity as Māori. Being Māori was bad.

Being in care, those children were away from home for several years, virtually cut off from their families, so often lost contact. By the 1960s many of them were the kids of street kids, with little hope of reconnecting with them, and with no knowledge of tikanga.

I am really hoping that this time this government will take the report seriously and redo the whole area, putting proper care structures in place. There needs to be a specific department, not a wee bit tacked on to Social Welfare. Tikanga Maori must be in place. There needs to be a career structure with thorough training for people who staff homes. There needs to be ongoing supervision of the homes and an independent complaints system. Maybe the Office of the Commissioner for Children could be expanded to provide such oversight.

May 19, 2016


I’d actually agree with people who say “I’m not racist”. I think racism is essentially the characteristic of the society we live in and all of us are caught up in it. Most of us are well adapted to living in a racist society. Of course, there are a few bigots who are enthusiastic and consciously participate rejoicing. Then there are lots of us who are uncritically accepting of how things are, or who have the luxury of putting it in the too hard basket. A growing number are trying to live in a resistant way.
It is good to have had a discussion on radio. If media would stop reinforcing the settler-coloniser mindset, I think the pace would pick up. However Jenny Rankine is doing a thesis about racism on social media, and at present that is a nightmare of prejudice where bigots romp and evangelise!
After focusing our energies on institutional racism, we haven’t had much impact on personal prejudice as yet.  However there is some evidence that attitudes follow change rather than initiate it, and again that takes a change of generations to show up.
Remember that anti-racism theory says that if nothing changes, whether the dominant group are glad or sad about it doesn’t really matter.  It is changing what happens that counts.
April 29, 2016

Modernism and the colonisation of New Zealand

Colonisation of NZ falls within the era of modernist project(s) and also at a late stage of British imperialism, when both the techniques and justifications were well-established. This accounts for a lot of settler attitudes and actions. For example, assumptions about their own superiority and entitlements were not thought of as questionable, but as knowledge. Somewhat garbled Darwinism was rife. The English were the fittest, and therefore destined for survival, at the expense of ‘inferior’ humans and all other species. Self-appointed scientists, all over Europe and North America, pursued the study of extinction as an interesting and inevitable phenomenon.

Buller and his ilk sent thousands of the skins and skeletons of birds back to the Natural History Museums of Europe, in Buller’s case this included the shooting of the last Huia. Read the rest of this entry »

April 25, 2016

Oops! Nasty!


booms the leaflet in front of me advertising a “new” book. It may be recently published, but it sounds like recycled Pakeha prejudice and colonization crap to me. Nothing new there! The leaflet features old favourites like:

reversed racism
Maori privilege
no full-blooded Maori(s) left
Maori ceded sovereignty
Maori violence
benefits of colonisation for stone-age people Read the rest of this entry »