|English: "The Treaty is a Fraud" poster from Maori Land Rights Movement in the 1980s (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
TO SAY that the Treaty of Waitangi was breached is, therefore, an accurate but ultimately trivial historical observation. Had it not been breached, New Zealand – as a colonial society inextricably enmeshed in the political, economic, social and cultural life of the British Empire – wouldn’t have existed. For the Settler State to become real, the Treaty had to become, in Chief Justice Prendergast’s brutal phrase: “a simple nullity”.
Was that wrong? Should the undertakings given by Captain Hobson on 6 February 1840 have been honoured? Removed from its historical context, the question is easily answered in the affirmative. Except that those who go in search of such unencumbered moral judgements, do so without understanding that such questions cannever be extracted from history.
To judge the dead may give some comfort to the living, but no matter how fervently the misdeeds of previous generations are condemned, they cannot be undone. Therefore, whatever justice we seek to do here and now, let it be to right the wrongs of the present – not the past.
We fair-skinned Polynesians are not – and can never be – “Europeans”. Just as contemporary Maori are not – and can never be again – the Maori who inhabited these islands before colonisation. Both of us are the victims of historical forces too vast for blame, to permanent for guilt.
And both of us have nowhere else to go.
This essay was originally published on the Bowalley Road blogsite on 12 May 2011.