WAITANGI, NEW ZEALAND – JANUARY 2, 2009: Treaty of Waitangi, the New Zealand’s founding document, was signed 1840 by the British Crown and Maori Chiefs in Waitangi, New Zealand.

[Editor: This article was prepared for May/Jun BayBuzz magazine and while presenting views related to the HBRC seats, those views are equally relevant to the Hastings Council’s consideration of dedicated seats. Since both councils will decide the matter in mid-May (HDC on May 18, HBRC on May 19), we are advance publishing the article to help inform timely public discussion. Neither council has provided any substantive information on the pros and cons of Maori seats. Hopefully you will find these articles helpful. Submission deadlines aside, councillors from either Council have a responsibility to weigh your views on this critical governance issue.]

Delivering on the promise 

By Martin Williams 

A fair question on the issue of Māori seats is why should some people have special rights to vote for councillors? Afterall, aren’t we all one people, every one of us with a head, heart and hopes for the future? 

The ‘sound bite’ answer to this question is, the Treaty of Waitangi. To some though, this answer isn’t that helpful. What is it about the Treaty that means we should have Māori seats on the Council? To really explain why I believe Māori constituencies demand very serious consideration, I need to step back a bit and share some context. About these islands we all live on. About our history. 

I have heard it said that the missionaries to whom I whakapapa were a spearhead for colonisation, even that Henry Williams, who was given the task by Governor Hobson, deliberately mistranslated the Treaty in exchange for land, in order to trick Māori into signing it. 

In mounting such an argument, reliance could be placed on the apparent discrepancies between the English version of the Treaty, and the Māori version, better known as Te Tiriti, in suggesting the Māori version was cunningly crafted to get Māori across the line. The truth as I perceive it is, however, to the contrary, and no such trick was intended, at least not by Henry Williams. 

For example, the wording of Article 1 of both the English version and Te Tiriti is actually very similar, when you understand the context it was drafted and translated in. “Sovereignty” as ceded to the Crown in Article 1 of the English version was not, to Henry’s understanding of the constitution at the time, an absolute right to rule without constraint, but instead on behalf of those governed. For them. In that sense, sovereignty better aligns with the term kawanatanga, more closely meaning “governance”, as ceded in Article 1 of Te Tiriti. 

The English version also includes another important word. Guarantee. Article 2 guaranteed Māori the full, exclusive and undisturbed possession of their lands, estates, forests, fisheries and other properties for so long as it was their wish to retain them. Think of what you expect when you receive a guarantee when you buy something, say a new car, TV or laptop. You expect it to be honoured. You expect redress if that guarantee is not met. If ever a guarantee was breached in law or in history, it was that contained in Article 2. 

A great many injustices have been perpetrated throughout the world’s history, and I agree that what happened in our land is perhaps not the worst example. I do not however buy the argument that we should forget our history and pretend we are like Scotland or even Great Britain as a whole, just another invaded nation; where both conqueror and the vanquished should simply ‘build a bridge’ and get on as if one people without a past. 

In any event, Aotearoa was not conquered. A deal was done. The Crown then reneged. 

This part of our nation’s story is a bit like one of newcomers being invited in by the locals for dinner, and after dessert is over, when the host’s defences are down and an assumption of trust forged, the guests pull out a gun and tell their hosts to clear out as trespassers in their own house. 

The Crown and colonising Pākehā pretty much did that. There was immense pressure on both the Crown and New Zealand Company to provide land as immigrants arrived without anywhere to settle, perhaps on a false promise in its own right. Land confiscation by military force aside, from the latter part of the 19th century, over 300 separate pieces of legislation were deliberately and strategically framed by the Crown to extract land from Māori, by hook or by crook, and against their will. 

Within Hawke’s Bay alone, in 1867, some 295,000 acres of Māori land between the Waikare and Esk Rivers was confiscated following the “Battle of Omaranui” and then later returned to Māori loyal to the Crown, but in many cases not the original owners. 

That flagrant breach of the Treaty was not finally remedied (or at least partly so) until Treaty settlements were reached in the past decade. Across New Zealand, a thriving Māori economy was destroyed as the result of Crown practices, and an entire people nearly decimated. The social, economic and cultural consequences of that history are still felt today, compounded in effect by subsequent forces of urbanisation, forced welfare dependency, and globalisation. If you are wondering why we have a gang, drug and Māori incarceration problem to this day, you need look no further.

With respect, we as Pākehā must face that history, without guilt so much as acceptance of fact, and not some other colonialist fantasy.

This brings me back to the take or issue at hand – direct Māori representation in local government decision making. 

Article 2 of Te Tiriti (or Māori version) guaranteed a much deeper and profound relationship than simple possesion of the land, forest and fishery resources referred to in the equivalent clause of the English version of the Treaty. Specifically, it guaranteed to Māori the critical bond with those resources revealed through the mana of that relationship: rangatiratanga. In Henry Williams’ own words, on later explaining his intention for using the terms he chose in Te Tiriti, Article 2 guaranteed those Māori who signed it, “their full rights as chiefs”.

Not surprisingly therefore, it is Article 2 which is generally relied on by Māori as the basis for seeking a direct and secure decision making role in local government. Afterall, aren’t the very resources which councils are responsible for looking after – “lands, estates, forests, and fisheries” – precisely those which Māori retained ‘full rights as chiefs’ over, in the guarantee of Article 2? 

Simply put, Māori seats would be a step towards delivering on the promise of this nation’s founding constitutional document. And when Māori see our natural resources going backwards through decades of poor management decisions made by local government, affecting vast swathes of land confiscated off them in the first place, is it any wonder they seek to now call in that guarantee? 

So, there you have it. Yes, we all may have a head, a heart; with luck two hands and a wallet from which there will be enough putea to cover our annual rates bill from Council. To that extent we are but one people. But in Treaty terms there are two partners, and again we cannot ignore our history, and pretend otherwise. Nor can we remain reliant on the current system where Māori representation on Council is not guaranteed, but at the whim of the general electorate, undeniably dominated by the Pākehā world view. 

Before I finish, I need to say this. It was reported once in BayBuzz online that I had made my mind up about this issue. That is wrong. 

My intention with this article is to help people understand why Māori seats are important, indeed why they would even be considered in the first place. While I may be predisposed to Māori seats for the reasons I have shared in this article, I have by no means have a closed mind on the subject, and my legal background reveals one universal truth; there are always two sides to the story. 

I must say that some of my fellow councillors have given me a lot of food for thought around this complex issue. I do have concern as to whether Māori seats would in fact better secure representation of mana whenua in decision making at regional council level, here in Hawke’s Bay. I will want to be reassured that Māori are firmly behind the proposal, if I am ultimately to vote for it. Equally, I would need to be very clear about the position of the broader communities of Hawke’s Bay regarding this constitutionally important question for local government in the region. 

I do however believe that we will be better placed as a region to face the very many significant challenges ahead, with the place of Māori firmly secured as decision makers at the governance table. The real question is how this is best achieved. 

The promise of the Treaty heralds hope for a better future together, provided only we honour the bargain made. My hunch is that this was Henry’s hope all along.

Māori representation … choosing the right way 

By Hinewai Ormsby 

I am 100% supportive of the need for Māori at the Council decision making table, particularly in order for our region to prosper and reach its potential environmentally and economically into our collective future. 

As Māori we have signficant potential to effect change for the better where the common values of manaakitangi (care for others) and kaitiakitanga (care for our natural world) underpin our world view. 

Too often the modern way is to compartmentalise or break things down and manage each part without acknowledging what connects the whole system. Whereas, in te ao Māori consideration is given to the interconnectedness and reciprocal nature of systems which drive to create balance with particular emphasis on the natural world. Often viewed in te ao Māori as ‘mauri’ or ‘lifeforce’ it is this understanding that enhances activities and behaviours wherever mauri is considered. 

Naturally, Māori at the decision making table would make a massive contribution for all of Hawke’s Bay in future proofing the outlook of our region. However, because the concept of Māori constituencies is complex, there is the potential for unintended consequences particularly for mana whenua, but also for all local Māori. 

At a local and regional level I believe significant consideration is needed to prioritise ‘which Māori’ (mana whenua or those Māori who have migrated from elsewhere) are more suitable in terms of exercising both manaakitanga and kaitiakitanga when it comes to decisions over the management of our region’s taonga (natural treasures). 

At present a number of different avenues for Māori representation are before the Regional Council for consideration, both voting and non-voting. 

The voting avenue includes nine Post-Settlement Governance Entitities that are hapūbased and sit alongside nine democratically elected regional coucillors to vote by majority on the region’s management of our taonga. At the non-voting avenue we have our Māori committee which is comprised of twelvemarae-based appointees from our four taiwhenua who provide advice and direction to Council on matters pertaining to Māori interests. While Māori committee members can’t technically be included in binding votes, signficant consideration is given to their direction. 

I foresee challenges with Māori wards through the Local Electoral Act 2001. The Act is ambivalent when it comes to who can stand in a Māori ward seat if created. There is no requirement that the person descends or has whakapapa to the region in which they’re standing. They don’t even need to be Māori and just need to be nominated by two Māori persons registered on the roll. 

Ridiculous I know!

The creation of Māori constituencies therefore has the potential to undermine these already established mana whenua-based decision making committees.

My whanaunga (relatives) in Ngāi Tahu have considered this possibility and instead have pivoted towards working with Environment Canterbury to seek a more meaningful approach to safeguarding mana whenua interests through a legislative mechanism. This better ensures the ‘right Māori’ in the ‘right seat’. Let’s not forget Te Tiriti o Waitangi was signed by chiefs on behalf of their people of that land, mana whenua. In short Ngāi Tahu said ‘no thanks’ to using the Local Electoral Act to meet their peoples’ needs for representation. 

Another consideration is that not all Māori in Hawke’s Bay are on the Māori electoral roll. For those who are, their choice of who they can vote for, if a Māori constituency is established, is restricted to just those standing in their geographic Māori constituency only.

Looking through a vague crystal ball, and based on the Māori electorate hot spots being Heretaunga and Napier, it could be that Wairoa and Central Hawke’s Bay lose out in local representation for those Māori-roll voters. 

I certainly know in the context of my hapūNgāti Paarau, based in Waiohiki, we would consider very carefully whether somebody from outside our rohe/area was mandated with the elected ‘Māori’ voice when it comes to speaking on behalf of our perceived interests. 

So if we were to establish 1 or 2 Māori constituencies (a ‘detail’ yet to be decided upon) within the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council ready for the 2022 elections, here will be the highlights. 

If a council doesn’t already have Māori councillors at the decision making table (in my view mana whenua is best), and need this to establish Māori with voting rights, creating a designated constituency is one possible way to achieve it.

To me, a more worthwhile proposition for the outlook of our region is constitutional transformation toward meaningful ‘built by Māori for Māori’ representation, which the Local Electoral Act will struggle to give in its current form. It’s more likely this Act may suck the energy out of larger productive conversation for mana whenua aspirations. A fit for purpose approach should be something for the Local Government Minister to ponder with her cabinet colleagues in future amendments. 

In late March I ran a two-day wānanga/workshop with Hastings District Councillor Bayden Barber, about how to run and be elected to local government. This wānanga had 16 incredibly talented and voracious Māori attend from both the North and South Islands where they learned everything from how to design and erect a billboard, to how to best present your views and ideas so that it builds consensus and agreement with both your community and other councillors. 

During the wānanga I shared my personal experiences in both running for the Regional Council and sitting on it. When I first decided to run for the Regional Council in mid-2019, I was said to be at a distinct disadvantage because I was young, a woman and Māori. 

However, I knew that I had been nurtured by whānau in my upbringing giving me suitable skills in my toolbox to get there. When I needed to deliver pamphlets into people’s letter boxes to tell people the reasons to vote for me, I had 200 friends and whānau willing to door knock on my behalf. I had dozens of aunties and uncles calling me up asking me to use their fence for a billboard, and I had nine friends and family willing to drive around town with my billboard plastered on their back windscreens. My own experiences prove that the narrative of Māori being unelectable doesn’t stack up. 

My view is that if you are good enough and do the mahi you will succeed, and I’ve proven it.

At the conclusion of our wānanga there was a collectiveness of thought that tino rangatiratanga is best exercised for ourselves as Māori people, and us alone. We have the skills, connections, and abilities most suited for politics, all we need is to give it a go.

Regardless of my personal views, we as a council are undecided at this point because we want to hear from our public both Māori and non-Māori as to how we best give effect to our Treaty of Waitangi obligations. We need to hear from our communities on such an important constitutional matter, so I am looking forward to hearing the public’s submissions and views on this very topic in early May. 

We will as Hawke’s Bay regional councillors, by 21 May, decide on whether to establish one or two Māori constituencies across Hawke’s Bay ready for the 2022 Local Government Elections, or wait to discuss it again in 2024, or explore other avenues.

This decision will not be made lightly, nor should it be for any council or councillor in Aotearoa. 

For me personally if as a council we vote to establish Māori wards for the 2022 Local Government election, I’ll choose to run in a general seat. 

Face the future

By Tom Belford

I respect enormously the points of view and underlying values reflected in Martin and Hinewai’s columns.

On the issue of Māori participation in governance, my strong inclination is treat addressing the future as far more important to the nation’s well-being than interpreting the past.

Like other attractive magnet countries, New Zealand is destined to become an ever more multi-cultural society, whether any of our racial or ethnic groups like it or not. We will need to welcome, respect and celebrate each other’s histories, cultural mores and embedded values.

In our democratic system, the future is not the place for identity politics and policies, whatever their historic or other rationale. From social equity to environmental survival, we need to embrace a larger common good filled with lofty aspirations and work together – as equals – to achieve it.

To be sure, unconscionable injustices were inflicted historically on this country’s Māori population and, as Martin notes, the effects linger. But the avenue for redressing those wrongs – as much as they could be and with fairness acknowledged by the aggrieved parties – has been the Treaty Settlement process. There, the nation has appropriately looked into its past and sought to make amends … morally and materially.

Martin says we should not “forget our history” – the Treaty Settlement process clearly has not been about forgetting history. He also says we should not “simply ‘build a bridge’ and get on as if one people …” 

I say we must. Equality in every sense – socially, culturally, economically, politically – will require far more personal investment and commitment for years on the part of every New Zealander as the nation becomes more diverse … so much more than token seats on local councils.

Hinewai, as I read her, addresses the ‘Māori seats’ from that perspective. Yes, representation must be authentic, but, facing forward, how is that best accomplished? I don’t know; that requires more dialogue. And as she makes clear, Māori themselves aren’t agreed.

Ensuring equality for all New Zealanders going forward deserves a far more robust solution and shared commitment than the divisive band aid offered by dedicated seats. 

Join the Conversation


  1. Treaty settlement process is not enough – our whole governing system was imposed by Westminster so redress would need to include a system that legislatively and practically encompasses te ao Māori in powersharing. This can only happen with a systemic response not just “we’re all NZers and have equal opportunity” Clearly we don’t if some of us have 100 years of neglect, active racism, putdowns and inability to shine in a completely alien Crown education or employment situation. It’s ridiculous to state we need to look forward not back – it’s a continuum.

  2. We are one people
    And if we’re going to survive and prosper in what could well be a very rough future we need to stick as one people with all citizens having equal political rights.

  3. When I was a youngster we were all taught to see ourselves as New Zealanders, all of us. Dedicating seats to a particular group only splits us into racial camps. Using the multicultural image paints the racial idea too. What is wrong being a New Zealander?

  4. Excellent articles but they rather miss the key issue. Irrespective of the history of NZ and an agreement hastily cobbled together 180 years ago, going forward we can’t operate a genuinely democratic society where one group has enduring and profound rights over the other groups just because of racial affiliations. It just won’t work! It’s a recipe for disaster.

    Thirty years ago when the ToW reparations were initiated we were lead to believe that it would be a one-off process. Payments would be made, lands unlawfully taken returned and mana restored, and we would move forward as one Nation. It’s morphed into an ongoing process where profound political rights would be given to Maori for the future. It creates an elite based on racial affiliations. We are now being split as a Nation for all time. That’s unfair and naive in a modern society.

  5. Excellent articles from all 3. Thank you for articulating so clearly the complexities of this issue. And for your excellent potted history Martin.
    Question: could Maori wards be used as an interim until more meaningful systems of representation are developed. But the understanding is very clearly that they are an interim
    Question- could ward be an interim while

  6. Fascinating korero on this question, and reading these excellent contributions do not in themselves provide any answers – as the song goes, “There are more questions than answers”. In my view, however, all answers should be viewed through the lens of Te Tiriti. There were two partners, the Crown and Tangata Whenua. The question is, was this partnership viewed as a 50/50 partnership at that time, or not? If yes, the question as to whether the HBRC (and all other local government bodies grappling with this issue) should support seats set aside for Maori is solely for Maori to decide, and the Crown does not morally have a right to dictate to the other treaty partner what they should or should not decide. I also have an issue with those who allege that this is a racial issue – it is categorically not. When the treaty was signed, is was not signed by pakeha and Maori as separate races, it was signed between the Crown, representing the government of Great Britain, and the Maori chiefs, as the then commonly accepted rulers/governors of Aotearoa. Therefore those who claim that proposed Maori-only seats perpetuate a racially based system are plainly wrong. My second and last question therefore is, what right have Pakeha to dictate or even suggest what Maori should or should not do about this issue? It is entirely their right and prerogative under the Treaty to decide for themselves if they want seats reserved, or not. Race has absolutely nothing to do with it.

  7. In my opinion: Merit beats As of Right! Not unlike rightful apartheid! Councilor Ormsby says it all. For that, I believe ALL ratepayers should thank their lucky stars that we ALL have such a “high caliber general public representative”, such as Hinewai! Amen.

  8. We are a society blinded with false presumptions caused by a lack of understanding and incorrect teachings. Maori and Pakeha are not two separate races of people, and if we accept that there is only one human race, and then read Article 2 of the 1840 Treaty correctly, it is found that the English Version does not contain the words Maori or Pakeha! (Use the original wording – if it contains ‘Maori’, it is a recent variation).

    Our mind-set has been changed through the influence of politics and media. Pre the European influx 200 odd years ago, Maori was not given as a name to any peoples, and it was not until the later 1840’s, after the Treaty, that it begins to come into more prominent use.

    It is sad that this seems to be made a racial issue, as it blinds us to the spiritual aspect of things. For example, Henry Williams was the first and possibly still the only person in the country to be accused of Treason against the Crown; not treason against the ‘Natives’! How many people stop to ask why, I wonder.

    There would be very few (if any) descendants of the earlier inhabitants alive today if it were not for the desires of those with similar spirit to the Williams brothers and various of the Native Chiefs.

  9. Great articles.
    As someone who has been somewhat cynical about the electoral process, as it seemed to me to be an exercise in PR. The two articles from the Councillors are well informed and coherent. This has shown me that at least in these two cases that the current process of electing our Council brings out high calibre people. These are the people I want representing my district and making decisions that will affect all who live here for generations to come.
    There has to be a high bar in which you need to cross to be trusted to make informed and careful decisions on behalf of thousands of people. Just being nominated is no where near good enough.
    I don’t know why we’re going back to the Treaty of Waitangi, 180 years ago. We can’t predict what’s going to happen in the next 10 years so why are we looking to implement a document written by people who if they saw how we live today would think they were on a different planet. We need to be flexible and capable of adapting to conditions and events that are coming our way.

    I think a merit based electoral process is the only way forward that’s why Martin and Hinewai are on the council and not an idiot like me. There is already a path for Maori to be formally on the council and it’s the same path as everyone else.
    I put my faith in people like Martin and Hinewai who have done the work to be informed and taken the time to help inform us.

  10. Wow! Good comments…. I ponder the ‘one nation; one people’ brigade and wonder: why would that ‘one nation’ not be a Maori nation? The Maori signatories to the Treaty did not demand that they would be the rulers of the nation, but asked that they simply retain ‘the full, exclusive and undisturbed possession of their lands, estates, forests, fisheries and other properties’
    Seemed fair, and so all parties signed up to the Treaty /agreement. So what happened ? Don’t get me started on colonialists and pastoralists! Fact is: colonialists (opportunists) screwed the Treaty and Maori, which is why we are in this place today!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.