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Lore and Disorder

New Myths and Old Politics: The Waitangi Tribunal and the Challenge of Tradition
by Tipene O’Regan (BWB Texts, paper $14.99; e-book $4.99)
Reviewed by Vaughan Rapatahana

Editor’s Note: This post is part of a series of reviews of books in the BWB Texts series.

OReganCoverBWBThis BWB book – available via various media – is itself a refinement and refurbishment of a 1991 Beaglehole Lecture, with some general housekeeping and more recent upkeep. It is indeed a small book to look at and to thumb through as it is ‘only’ 74 pages. Yet within this space there is a quite hard-hitting BIG issue being considered, namely how claims to the Waitangi Tribunal could well be derailed by ‘alternative iwi’, by the machinations of far-out claimants, in this particular case by various ‘Waitaha’ members, during the loooooooooong Ngāi Tahu settlement process of the 1990s.

As such, this pithy book is well worth reading, for it provides us plenty of the gritty detail only a staunch insider to the negotiation process – here Tipene O’Regan – could provide. As such it also tangentially tempts the reader to further research the New Wave aspects of ‘Waitaha’*, and to ponder just who these rather odd claimants were, and are, even today in their diminished (numbers and stature) forms.

Ngāi Tahu, of course, claim affiliation to ‘genuine’ and ancient Waitaha, but O’Regan gives short shrift to latter day ‘Waitaha’ and  groups like them – not by any means exclusively Māori – who seemed determined to file their own claims to the big bundle of Treaty settlement cash and indeed to money available during the settlement process, both  “well resourced from the public purse”. In so doing – and this is the nub of this pukapuka iti (small book) – such groups end up “complicating the Treaty settlement process” and ensuring the sometimes “ruinous levels of cost” created.

Who are Waitaha, you may well ask? They were the progenitors of Ngāi Tahu, who first arrived in Aotearoa about 700 years ago in the Uruao waka under the leadership of Rākaihautū, who were later intermingled and intermarried with the North Island iwi Ngāti Māmoe, who had imposed themselves southwards on Waitaha. Yet, Ngāti Māmoe were also infiltrated and interposed by other, stronger-through-weaponry iwi and the resultant mix was Ngāi Tahu. Waitaha then are at the nub of Ngāi Tahu – a valued component of a staunch and distinct southern iwi, verifiable via historic Pākehā methodology and Māori whakapapa lineages, despite the ploys and plays of “layers of lawyers”, ‘academic’ historians, carpetbaggers and snake oil salesmen and women involved in the extensive Treaty of Waitangi settlement. All such participants being “conscious of the highly political character of straining history through ‘due process’,” and some vying and trying to take advantage of such.

The ‘Waitaha’ at issue here went by such names as Waitaha Management Group and Elders of the Ancient Nation of Waitaha, but O’Regan stresses  that it has not only been Ngāi Tahu having to deal with such  groupings – other weird factions have also sprung up over the years, such as the United Tribes of New Zealand. One thing the ‘Waitaha’ all have in common is that “some aspects of their activities are extremely effective in the gathering of funds and resources …. [while they] readily found many willing allies”, namely New Agers and Old Stagers who were getting off on the ‘mystical’ trip they had palpably lusted after for years. ‘Every dog has its day’ is a well-worn canine credo and at one stage such ‘Waitaha’ were complicating due process for Ngāi Tahu, and were part of “a movement that … was fundamentally subversive of the Treaty relationship”, not to mention, O’Regan says, subverting Ngāi Tahu’s rangatiratanga.

I will not give ‘Waitaha’ more focus as they quite simply don’t deserve attention, given that today, they are merely “more of a nuisance than a real threat … to Ngāi Tahu”. But a key point of O’Regan’s brief exegesis is that for a time the competing ‘Waitaha’ in their mixed ethnic hues, were so dangerous that in 1998, “as the settlement legislation drew nearer … proceedings were commenced on behalf of ‘Waitaha’ both in the High Court and in the Waitangi Tribunal.” Interested readers who wish to learn more about this surrounding ‘Waitaha’ spuriousness and speciousness could do no better than refer to the excellent Reading The Maps blogspot and key in the word Waitaha for more cerebral readings.

What ultimately won for Ngāi Tahu was no more than “a rigorous and culturally inclusive scholarship” quantifying quality Pākehā and Māori forms of such, necessarily “applying scholarly standards to Māori tradition and history”.  Ultimately sense rode in and not only did Ngāi Tahu (and let’s be frank here – Tipene O’Regan was a master horseman throughout) gain final settlement of their treaty negotiations in October 1998, but they also accomplished an almost unique viability as an iwi, as they – along with Tainui – “are the only iwi to have their legal personality formally recognised by Parliament.”

Yet, O’Regan has a more barbed under-current running throughout – namely that if it were not for historical and more recent Pākehā manoeuvring, not only Ngāi Tahu, but many other iwi, would not have had such annoying, potentially destructive issues with self-definition as a separate living entity. The overthrow of the Labour Government’s Rūnanga Iwi Act by a swift National dagger blow in 1999 buggered up such definitive tribal concretization, thus leading to such issues as Ngāi Tahu had with ‘Waitaha’. But far more than this knife-blow to legitimate Māori existential status, was the long heritage of similar determined efforts by Pākehā governments to thwart Māori self-determination as separate peoples. Thus O’Regan openly castigates “the settler politicians [who] drove a series of acts through the House between 1858 and 1865 all aimed at destroying the ‘beastly communism’ of the Māori … one of the great unsung Treaty crimes.”

Isn’t it all ironic then that a primarily Pākehā government finally ratified Ngāi Tahu as an authentic entity, yet that Ngāi Tahu had to counter for far too long yet another predominantly Pākehā predatory pretender claiming ‘Waitaha’ as their genesis, a grouping which Scott Hamilton, for example, has strenuously and stentoriously noted “has been widely condemned by New Zealand’s scholarly community”.

And the ultimate irony is that despite all of the above, ‘Waitaha’ have actually reinforced the overall cohesion, unity and identity of Ngāi Tahu – have reinforced them as an iwi and have bonded them even more staunchly to their own intrinsic Waitaha heritage..

Kia kaha Tipene, kia toa me kia manawanui te taima katoa hoki. Ka nui te pai tēnei tuhituhi.

* The ‘Waitaha’ here are not to be confused with the Waitaha iwi of the Bay of Plenty, of the Te Arawa waka.