Growth of Maori Sovereignty

Sept. 12th, 2017

Today we had the privilege of speaking to Josh Te Kane, a member of the Hairini Marae iwi. Josh shared his knowledge about Maori sovereignty. Maori sovereignty is a topic we are constantly exploring, researching, and trying to understand. Sovereignty is defined as a supreme power or authority. This leads us to a question I consistently wrestled with, do Maori’s have true sovereignty? Up until this point in time, I didn’t view Maori sovereignty as true sovereignty. Maori’s have sovereignty in specific areas such as within marae’s, kapa haka classes (song and dance classes), and Te Reo (Maori Language) week. It is within these areas that Maori’s are able to experience true Maori sovereignty. As far as a true self-governing state goes, I did not view Maori’s as having true sovereignty.

However, once Josh Te Kane shared his insight on Maori Sovereignty, this quickly changed. Josh explained the history of Maori’s up to present-day in a way that helped me to understand sovereignty through his eyes. Europeans arrived in New Zealand in the early 1800’s, which was a time of great turmoil. From the very beginning, Maori’s had a great relationship with the Colonials. They were great tradings of items such as flax, kumara, animals, etc. which were all very beneficial for the Maori tribes. As time went on, missionaries arrived on the island introducing Christianity. Christianity was very similar with the Maori beliefs and faiths. More and more Europeans began to move on New Zealand land, which eventually led up to the land wars.

In 1840 the Treaty of Waitangi was officialized. Unfortunately, the English and Maori versions of the Treaty were translated differently amongst the Maori community and European community.  There was a large misunderstanding. In 1852, Chief Tamihana Te Rauparaha visited England. He learned about the England monarchy system and wanted to incorporate the same system amongst Aotearoa. Once Chief Tamihana established that there would be an Aotearoa Monarchy system, the hunt for a king began. Chief Tamihana searched from the north to the southern islands, and from the east to the western islands. He asked many different chiefs if they were to take the duties of being King, but many would reply saying, “My waters are too shallow to take care of the masses”. Once Chief Tamihana finally found a King, there was a separation amongst the Maori people. Some Maori’s favored the Queen of England, whereas others favored the Maori King. Since then, many wars between Maori’s and Colonials occurred, as well as wars between different Maori tribes. Up to present day, Maori’s are still coming to terms with all the history that’s happened. Although The Crown rules over Aotearoa, there is still a Maori King. The Maori King doesn’t have governmental powers, however, he is a figure of sovereignty for Maori people. The number of Maori’s who have high beliefs in the King has risen greatly. The King is the glue that has kept Maori’s together.

Maori sovereignty is present. It is not lost. The Maori King kept Maori sovereignty alive, but the Maori youth today is what keeps Maori sovereignty growing. In 2013, three high school girls started a petition to teach Maori history in schools. Thousands and thousands of people supported this petition. Maori history is now taught in schools. The young generations of Maori’s are the back bone of keeping Maori’s united as one people. Maori children are able to learn about their history. They are learning and retaining information through their traditional song and dances. Slowly but surely, Maori’s are able to talk about the past and share stories. They are now strong enough to take action towards a better future. Although it is a time of mourning, it’s a time of strong restoration for Maori’s. Maori sovereignty may not be as easily detected, but it is surely alive and growing.

Josh Te Kane and I in Hairini Marae.

-Seni Lavulavu

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