The Māori are the indigenous people of New Zealand, the descendants of Polynesians who made it to the island in the 13th century. After conflict with the Europeans who arrived in the early 19th century, some (but not all) of the Māori tribes (“iwi”) signed the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi (“te Tiriti o Waitangi”). That treaty, whose interpretation is in parts ambiguous (partly because there’s an English and Māori version that aren’t 100% interchangeable), nevertheless has three provisions that are clear. Here’s how Wikipedia describes them.
- Article one of the Māori text grants governance rights to the Crown while the English text cedes “all rights and powers of sovereignty” to the Crown.
- Article two of the Māori text establishes that Māori will retain full chieftainship over their lands, villages and all their treasures while the English text establishes the continued ownership of the Māori over their lands and establishes the exclusive right of pre-emption of the Crown.
- Article three gives Māori people full rights and protections as British subjects.
In general, while making Māori subject to British governance, then, it also grants them rights over their land and property and civil rights equal to those of the British subjects in New Zealand.
This last part, the “full rights and protections”, is the part that’s at issue today, for it’s being seen as granting Māori not just legal or moral rights identical to that of “Europeans,” but giving them equal access to and resources of science and natural resources. I’ve written many times, for example, how the Māori and their supporters are insisting that Maori “ways of knowing” (“Mātauranga Māori”, or MM), be taught as coequal to modern science in school science classes, even though MM has only a small bit of empirical practical knowledge, and largely comprises myth, legend, morality, customs, and religion.
And so it goes with other subjects. The Treaty is interpreted as meaning that Māori get equal say in what kind of science will be done and should get as much money as non-Māori for science projects, even though the people with some or mostly indigenous heritage make up only about 17% of the population. Further, to extend the Treaty to the idea of “equal teaching of science” or “equal grant funding” forces it apply to realms that weren’t even in existence in 1840.
A lot of the fighting about applying the Treaty involves who gets the power to run New Zealand, and because the indigenous people are seen as oppressed “people of color”, there is little pushback to their claims. Teachers objecting to MM being taught in science class, for example, risk their jobs. The epithet of “racism” chills all discourse about how to deal with Māori claims; the group truly has, in New Zealand, what’s been called “the authority of the sacred victim”.
A recent and prime example of misapplication of the Treaty (and of fishing rights negotiated between Māori and the “Crown”), is the overturning of a huge and essential ocean sanctuary proposed and approved by the New Zealand government. Now this sanctuary will not be created because the iwi not only claim fishing rights (which are meager: about $100,000 U.S. per year), but want majority or even full power over the governance of this sanctuary.
What I’ll report here is what I’ve gleaned from several articles, the main ones being below (click to read).
The Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary, discussed in Parliament since about 2015 (and heavily promoted by former PM Jacinda Ardern), is a proposed 620,000 km² (about 240,000 mi²) sanctuary extending far around New Zealand’s largely uninhabited Kermadec Islands, shown below. The archipelago is located about 1000 km (600 miles) northeast of New Zealand’s North Island, and the islands are where the red marker is:
The sanctuary is being established to enlarge by nearly 100-fold the existing Kermadec Marine Reserve, and, at twice the size of New Zealand, would be one of the world’s largest marine reserves. As the Kiwi site Stuff notes:
It supports life not found anywhere else on the planet: home to 431 fish species, six million seabirds, three types of endangered sea turtles, and more than 250 species of coral and aquatic invertebrates.
It is geologically significant, with the world’s longest chain of submerged volcanoes and the second-deepest ocean trench, plunging to depths of 10km – deeper than Mount Everest is tall.
Remote and largely uninhabited, most will never get the chance to visit this subtropic island arc, around 1000 km north-east of the North Island. And that’s what makes it so special – for millennia, it has thrived untouched by human activity.
The Sanctuary is seen as helping fulfill a UN program to protect more of the oceans (one reason being their value as a buffer to climate change). If established, this reserve would, together with ones established by the US, UK, and Australia, protect 3.5 million km² of ocean.
But the Kermadec Sanctuary is not going to happen. Why? Because the Māori commercial fishing interests voiced opposition, and the iwi voted almost unanimously to reject the proposal. Since their assent is essential, the sanctuary is an ex-sanctuary, singing with the Choir Invisible.
The pathetic thing about this objection is that “the Māori commercial fishing interests” are almost nil given that the sanctuary is so far away from the mainland.
[The iwi] argued Māori would no longer be able to source commercial quota from that area. (Officials calculated the catch was small – about 20 tonnes, worth roughly $165,000 a year.) Believing this would override fishing rights enshrined in the ‘Sealord Deal’ – a 1992 commercial fisheries settlement – Māori fisheries trust Te Ohu Kaimoana (TOKM) took legal action.
I’m assuming those are New Zealand dollars since this is a New Zealand site, so the value of the catch is about $102,000 US per year. And THAT is preventing this sanctuary from coming into being? Hell, the government could pay it off easily, and in fact they offered to do so, along with other concessions to the Māori. When it became clear that the Māori weren’t keen on an earlier proposal, the government’s Environment Minister David Parker put this on the table:
Parker, who had hoped to get it over the line before the election, said he had been working on the revised proposal since 2017 to try to get the sanctuary established. His changes included renaming the sanctuary the Ngā Whatu-a-Māui Ocean Sanctuary and setting up a co-governance entity Te Kāhui to manage it. Te Kāhui was to get a $40 million research fund to do that.
The proposed legislation also required it be managed in a way that recognised Māori rights and interests. Te Kāhui was also to be tasked with considering whether the sanctuary could be given legal personhood, as happened with the Whānganui River. It also allowed for a review of the fishing total allowable catch in 10 years’ time, and rights to compensation.
Te Kāhui would consist of four government ministers, four Te Ohu Kaimoana representatives and one representative each for Te Aupōuri and Ngāti Kuri – mana whenua in the area.
You can’t come up with a better deal than that: a cool 40 million in research, co-governance between the “Crown” (the government) and the Māori, renaming the sanctuary, management recognizing Māori rights and interests, and a council with 60% Māori members. Did that fly?
No. The Māori want more. As they made clear, they are “the original conservationists” and don’t want to share any control by the UN or the New Zealand government:
Peter-Lucas Jones of Te Aupōuri said it was never going to support what was proposed – because of the impact on rights and the structure of the proposal.
“We were never going to agree to the Crown extinguishing our indigenous rights and interests in the moana [area of water] that has been identified for the sanctuary.
“[However], we are the original conservationists and we want to see more happen in that space in the interests of the future of our mokopuna [descendants]. But we want to lead that, not be added onto somebody’s relationship strategy with Unesco and the Americans. We want to be part of an idea that looks much further into the future than the next 20 years.”
Parker said iwi had indicated they were not interested in compensation, but the Government had been clear it was willing to consider compensation for fishing rights that would be suspended, saying the cost would be modest because little commercial fishing took place in the area concerned due to its remoteness.
It seems clear that this is not about money or commercial fishing at all; it is a gesture by the Māori to show that, as “the original conservationists” (who killed all the moa and burnt a huge section of the islands), they aren’t getting enough power. They want to LEAD the project, not just be one of a team that include the UN and the NZ government, not to mention the horrible Americans.
This is what conferring authority on a “sacred victim” yields: a huge amount of protection to a fragile ocean environment must give way so that the iwi of the Māori can have power and respect. They don’t want to just be on a team, they want to RUN the team, and in a way beneficial to future Māori. (As the old saying goes, though, “there is no ‘I’ in ‘team’.”) That is a selfish inversion of priorities that can endanger not just marine life, but the whole planet.
As usual, I got this tip from an anonymous Kiwi scientist who is angry not just at what happened, but at the fact that other Kiwi scientists aren’t objecting to the unconscionable usurpation of power based on the “sacred victim” narrative. As the scientist told me:
I don’t know why iwi rejected it, but it looks as if the iwi want to control the whole process. What interested me was the lack of comment from marine conservationists. Normally when an MPA [“Marine Protected Area”] proposal is rejected there is a lot of protest. This time – crickets.