Thursday, September 19, 2019

Ihumātao and Treaty settlements

Yesterday Ihumātao's mana whenua reached a consensus that they would like their land back, and asked the government to negotiate with Fletcher's for its return. The government's response? Try and undermine that consensus, while talking about how doing anything would undermine existing Treaty settlements. The first is just more bad faith, an attempt to keep Māori fighting themselves so dispossession can continue. As for the second, its simply a convenient excuse for inaction and for continuing injustice. Here's why.

First, keep in mind what the settlements are for: pretty much the entire country. There's a graphic here on Stuff which rams home the scale of loss, how much land was taken. While some was sold in commercial transactions, these were typically one-sided, and frequently the crown didn't bother to live up to its side of the bargain anyway. In other cases, land was legally confiscated, or simply stolen as "survey costs". The government has admitted that all of this was wrong, which is why it is settling. But it is not returning everything it took, plus 180 years of rent and interest. Instead, it returns a tiny fraction of its value, typically less than five percent.

Iwi accept these one-sided "settlements" because its basicly that or nothing. As Morgan Godfrey points out, by doing so, they are being extraordinarily generous, effectively making an enormous gift to New Zealand. But we shouldn't pretend that the government is really providing just compensation for what it stole, or that the low value of settlements is not in and of itself a severe and ongoing breach of the Treaty.

The government calls these settlements "full and final", and writes that both into the settlement deed and the law. We also shouldn't pretend that that means anything. Given their utter inadequacy compared to the harm done, their one-sided nature, their "take it or leave it" "negotiations", these settlements are only "full and final" by Māori goodwill - and whether they stick or not is a political question for each generation. If a new generation of Māori decides that their elders sold them out by accepting less than what was owed, then the government is simply going to have to deal with that, and make good. Because no person with a shred of conscience could consider what has been provided anything like just compensation for what was stolen - and until just compensation is paid, the wrong remains.

Looking at Ihumātao, the government makes much of the fact that Te Kawerau a Maki settled their claims in 2014. That settlement was for $6.5 million. That's around 20% of the (SHA-inflated) cost of Ihumātao, and if you look at the government acknowledgements in their settlement legislation, vastly more than that was stolen. Pretending that the redress was remotely adequate is simply unconscionable.

Which brings us back to goodwill. If the government wants to maintain that goodwill, and not reopen everything, then returning Ihumātao and/or protecting it would seem to be a good way to do that. On the flip side, the longer they refuse to do so, the more this builds, the more likely it is that Māori will start to demand actual compensation, rather than the modern-day beads and blankets they have been given. And I suspect the government really wouldn't like that.