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Ko Tangata Tiriti Ahau


The Christmas before last our kids gave us kits. You know the deal: you spit into a test tube, send it over to Ireland, and in a month or so you get a wadge of paper in the mail telling you who you are. I've never, previously, been interested in all that stuff. I knew my forbears came to Aotearoa in the 1850's from Britain but I didn't know from where, exactly. Clemency's results, as it turns out, were pretty interesting. She was born in England, but has ancestors from various European places, and some who are Ngāti Raukawa, so she can whakapapa back to a little marae called Kikopiri, near Ōtaki. And me? It turns out I'm more British than most British people. Apart from a smattering of Norse  - probably the result of some Viking raid in the dim distant past - all my tūpuna seem to have come from a little group of villages in Nottinghamshire. 

Now I've been to the UK a few times, and I quite like it, but it's not home: my heart and soul belong here, under the Long White Cloud.  And the incongruence between my genes and my sense of belonging induced a minor (and brief - more of that in a minute) episode of existential angst. After all, being born in a place doesn't necessarily guarantee citizenship. My grandson, for instance was born in Doha but he is not, and never will be, a Qatari. There are many Palestinian people whose families have lived on and farmed the same piece of land for generations but whose government now tells them they are intruders and tries to forcibly evict them. 

But this is not Qatar or Palestine and things are different here: different for the event we all celebrate this week.  On February 5 1840 there was no such thing as New Zealand, but on February 7 1840 there was. What happened in between was the signing of the Treaty, by which our country was formed, and the first article of the Treaty guarantees my place here. No one - no individual and no government -can deny me my right to be here because ko Tangata Tiriti ahau - I am a person of The Treaty. This is the ground on which I stand. My place in these blessed islands is one of the most precious gifts I have been given, but it seems that, recently, some clowns have become obsessed with the notion of sawing off the branch on which we are all sitting, by radically redefining or even abandoning the Treaty.  It's preposterous that they think that an agreement between two parties can be unilaterally changed by one of the parties, but they seem determined to try. I'm getting older and slower, but anyone who wishes to harm the Treaty will have to get past me first. 

There are three reasons I love the treaty and will try, with every fibre of my being, to honour it. The first, I have already mentioned, is a selfish one: namely that it is my own, personal, rock solid guarantee of a right to be here.  

Secondly I am called to honour the Treaty because I am an Anglican, The first missionaries were Anglican, and played a pivotal role in developing the wording of the treaty and in discussions with Maori about signing it. The Treaty was written in English and translated into Maori by the Missionary Henry Williams, and it is this translation that was signed by the chiefs. Over the next few months missionaries were pivotal in collecting signatories throughout Aotearoa. Right from the beginning some chiefs asked hard questions about the missionaries' involvement in the Treaty project and about their motives, but the fact remains that without the involvement of our spiritual forbears it would never have been signed, so we,  the members of Te Hahi Mihinare, inherit the responsibility of promoting, honouring and upholding the Treaty. 

Thirdly, there is a reason it is easier to comprehend than to explain. It's about what is right. All our Bible readings this morning talked of a deep current which flows through the history of the Universe. The Gospel describes the beginning of Jesus' ministry. Mark talks of the enormous impact Jesus had on those who met him: those ill people  he touched  often recovered from their sicknesses, and in his presence crazy people were suddenly sane.  People in the excited crowds naturally enough interpreted his actions in the light of their own social and political and spiritual understanding and sought to co-opt Jesus to their own ends (what has changed?) Jesus responded to all this excitement by going off alone to be in silence, and by speaking of a deeper purpose to which he was called. 

Later on, Paul spoke of the need to look beyond our very human systems of understanding to the deep stream Jesus came to proclaim. We're no longer Jewish or Greek, he said, but we draw on a deeper identity. And centuries before, the prophet Isaiah had invited people to look deeper. When folk were disturbed by the seemingly catastrophic machinations othe great empires of his time he asked them "have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the Earth. He does not faint or grow weary. His understanding is unsearchable." 

These three texts point us to a deep stream of truth and justice and righteousness which is flowing through all creation; a stream which we very often hide beneath our various flawed systems of thinking and behaving, but which can be seen if we are looking, and which sometimes surfaces in the affairs of human beings. One of the times when this stream surfaced was in the signing of the Treaty. Think about what happened in 1840. 

When you look back at the way colonising powers have dealt with indigenous peoples throughout the world, the thinking behind the Treaty of Waitangi is unusually enlightened. The Treaty was drafted not as a deed of conquest, or as a proclamation of a strong power to a weaker one, but rather, as an agreement between two sovereign peoples who were to be equal partners in this new arrangement. This was a moment of goodness and justice, and we can be rightly proud that our nation has such a beginning. 

Of course the good intentions of the treaty were often honoured more in their breach than in their observance. By the end of the 19th Century 97% of Maori land was in the ownership of non Maori. Every morning I look out my window at the Anderson's Bay causeway, which was built by the forced labour of men from Parihaka, imprisoned and exiled down here for the "crime" of peacefully resisting the wholesale theft of their ancestral lands.  We look at contemporary Aotearoa/New Zealand and it's shameful that Maori people, on average, live 6 years less than Pakeha. More than half of our prison population is Maori, and on pretty much any parameter you care to name Maori lag behind the rest of us. And yet, our social media, and lately, even our parliament, is filled with voices moaning about the "unfair advantages" given to Maori. Seriously, I wonder what planet these people are from. 

The genius of the Treaty was that the British and the Tangata Whenua stood as equals and recognised each other as human beings. The failing of what might be called the "colonial minsdset" is that people's true humanity is diminished or even entirely overlooked. For example, in 1857 Leonard Harper crossed the Southern Alps and newspaper stories in Westport and Christchurch hailed this as the first time a man had crossed the great divide. But the very story, underneath the large black headline, recorded that Harper had been guided the whole way by a young Ngai Tahu man, and that in some places he had used rope ladders permanently fixed to cliffs. Think about that. The fact that Māori had been crossing the Southern Alps for about 400 years, using at least 8 different routes, and that they had well established pathways was ignored, because the people involved were not European.  We are called to do better than that. We are called to BE better than that. 

There are two parties to the treaty: Tangata Whenua and Tangata Tiriti, and this morning I guess I am speaking to the second of these, because that's the group I belong to and as I look around, that's who I see is here.  Let's try honouring the Treaty. Let's try valuing it and rejoicing in it.  Let's try keeping our word. 

Because the Treaty is a gift to us all, and because it gives us the right to be here;

Because it is part of our own spiritual tradition;

Because this is the right thing to do.


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