Opinion: A State within a State?


The Crown and Tuhoe as many of you might have seen, have come to a historic settlement agreement which will, amongst other things, see the Tuhoe people gain much more control over their own affairs, the implications, benefits and consequences of which could well be felt for decades to come in ways we may not foresee.

Treaty settlements are a fascinating topic to study as an impartial observer. The notion of past wrongs made right through monetary compensation does not sit comfortably with many New Zealanders, however I think almost all do agree that past wrongs should be acknowledged, but just how to address them to do them justice is hotly debated. Ever since the floodgates to historical claims under the Treaty of Waitangi Act opened in 1975, we have seen iwi settlement compensation escalate to eye watering amounts, which makes you wonder when and where it will stop. An even more puzzling question for many is, where does this money go and what happens to the assets transferred? In the case of some, it goes towards building a solid business empire, just take a look at the most successful corporate iwi there is, Ngai Tahu. For others, it’s dodgy investments in tech companies which go belly up.

But the Tuhoe deal is unique. As far as we know Tuhoe never signed the treaty, therefore I guess technically they ’aren’t’ part of the modern crown state we call New Zealand, more like a conquered minority that has had to assimilate and go with the flowoccasionally kicking and screaming. (I highly recommend anyone read the Tuhoe’s history, some of which is available on its website as it is quite fascinating. It is a shame more of this is not taught in schools or University)This view is based on the premise that you hold the treaty in such high regard as our ’founding document’ on which to base our nation, a concept I find a little uneasy, however Tuhoe do have a strong case for an independent voice, but do they deserve more?

“The starvation of the Tuhoe that followed swiftly from the systematic destruction of crops and livestock, the looting of anything troops could carry away, the burning of homes, and the confiscation of land, went unchecked by the Crown, which in effect had turned on a group of its own citizens with the intention of annihilating their presence in certain regions.” – Paul Moon

Under the deal (signed on Friday) which is set to become law by the end of the year, Tuhoe will have received an apology, a redress package worth $170M, a weird independence clause under Mana Motuhake which fiddles around with the delivery of government and iwi services, and the shared say in the running Te Uruwera National Park under the guise of an increasingly biased governance board.

This is a new level of treaty settlement. It potentially opens a Pandora’s box of open mysteries relating to future claims for independence by other iwi, as well as future development through osmosis of a completely independent “state within a state”.

On one hand, Tuhoe have had a rough ride. The crown treated them badly and they have suffered more than most. As far as we know, they never signed the treaty. I won’t cover the details but Paul Moon touched on them in this article in the NZ Herald recently. IF any iwi were to become an independent body or have a more independent voice, then I think you could concede Tuhoe are at the top of the list.

In an interview with Guyon Espiner for TV3s 3rd Degree programme, Tuhoe’s chief negotiator Tamati Kruger has expressed his wish that Tuhoe gain enough autonomy to take care of its own infrastructure, implement health and education programs and also taxing their own people, essentially administering their own form of governance. Kruger remarks in this interview that it will be working with the crown in the form of interdependence, one hopes that it can and will work in the political landscape of the future.

Interestingly enough, I am reading Jared Diamonds ’Guns, Germs and Steel’ and in it there is chapter dedicated to the rise of organized social and political structures. There is a quote that springs to mind, although I am not insinuating that Tuhoe is or will become a kleptocracy.

“The difference between a kleptocrat and a wise statesman, between a robber baron and public benefactor, is merely a matter of degree: a matter of how large a percentage of the tribute extracted from producers is retained by the elite, and how much the commoners like the public uses to which the redistribution is put”

Therein lies the challenge for iwi post settlement, as when compensation and/or control is handed back to a highly centralized iwi, membership of which depends on individual identity loosely based on increasingly ill defined and diluted ancestral lineage, how can we be sure that all members of who this settlement is supposed to benefit, will actually see benefit materialize as a result?

Tuhoe will get some serious cash to add to their already large coffers which could set themselves up for a bright future indeed, but when they splash $15M on a flash new admin building, questions arise.

“[Tuhoe] was one of seven tribes to share in the 2007 Central North Island Forest Iwi Collective deal which transferred land worth $149.6-million, released forestry rentals worth $223-million that had been held in trust since 1989, and began an agreement that paid forestry rentals worth $13-million a year. Tuhoe would have received around $32-million in accumulated rentals in 2007, and receive an on-going annual forestry cash flow of around $2-million” – Mike Butler

Tuhoe will also get the have an increasing influence over the matters concerning Te Uruwera National Park which was essentially taken by the crown without any consultation as recently as 1954. Fair enough right? Well maybe.


A National Park….but for how long?

Under the proposal, the park will become a new legal entity, no doubt the work of some rather crafty and imaginative lawyer. For a start there will be equal crown and iwi representation on a new Governance board who will be required to make unanimous decisions on key issues (otherwise by consensus) concerning the park or what ever form it becomes under its new legal identity. Initially the board will comprise of equal number crown/iwi representatives but after 3 years, crown representatives dwindle down to 3 while Tuhoes are increased to 6. I did hear that it would be full Tuhoe in years to come but can’t confirm that yet.
What will this mean for the 70,000 people who visit this national park annually? According the Chris Finlayson, not much [see 3rd degree interview]. We will all be welcome as “guests” in the Tuhoe “homeland” (his words, not mine), a reality that I find hard to believe.


Some interesting comments on one of the many threads on Tuhoes Facebook page.

But then again, why should I care what happens to Tuhoe? I’ve never been near the place, am unlikely to do so in the future so how will this affect me? Surely it must be good for the NZ collective if Tuhoe wish to look after their own roads, find their own power and tax their own people right? Im sure some hard liners would agree to dig up all services to Tuhoe country and leave them to it, but I do think Tuhoe wish to do well for their people.
Tuhoe have expressed a wish to abolishing benefit payments from the crown, saving the country in the vicinity of $9M per year. Yes, good from taxpayers point of view, but I do think those at the top of the Tuhoe tree are really wanting to make a difference for their people, by getting them off welfare and creating jobs based around Tikanga Tuhoe and instilling a pride in their people to achieve. Who knows, an independent Tuhoe state could well be a great point of difference for New Zealand, to showcase to the world a prime example of harmonious race relations. Positive spinoffs could entail a potential boost to tourism if Tuhoe were open to foreign dollars flowing into their little economy.

I am torn. On the one hand I can see the immense benefit the Tuhoe people could stand to gain should their leaders invest for a future for their people based on mutual cooperation with the crown on various matters, and if they wish to look after their own backyard, I would be tempted to let them do so, so long as they don’t come running back with their tail between their legs.
On the other hand I can see we stand at the top of another slippery slope towards a divided separatist country based on preferential treatment, reverse apartheid as some call it. By making allowances for Tuhoe to gain further footholds climbing the mountain to autonomy by allowing them to create their own gated community, what’s stopping other iwi from trying the same sort of trick in the future?

While there have been larger monetary settlements, I don’t recall one that sets the a precedent quite like this one, by way of paving the road towards an independent nation. Time will tell how this cooperation between two seemingly different people often with totally opposite views will work in the decades ahead.

I seriously hope for the best for all New Zealanders and the Tuhoe people, but I am quite prepared for the worst.

(A small disclaimer; I am part Maori but do not consider myself Maori nor a European New Zealander, quite simply I am a New Zealander who wishes we all progress together as one while still celebrating our individual cultures in harmony, plus given my ethnic make up, I like to think I can sit on the fence and sling mud at both sides)

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2 thoughts on “Opinion: A State within a State?

  1. “I would be tempted to let them do so”
    These comment exhibits some bias. If Tuhoe never signed the treat and they never accepted the sovereignty of the crown the I’m not convinced that independence is something that “we” get to “let them” have. The talk of apartheid is just hysteria – there are plenty of examples of workable sovereign statelets amongst Native Americans and First Nation Canadians.

    “where does this money go and what happens to the assets transferred?”
    If a court makes me pay damages to another party for historical wrongs that I have committed against them (and in Tuhoe’s case they were pretty severe). I don’t think I get to tell that third party what they do with that money…

    1. Indeed I agree with your comments Richard but I only would be tempted to ‘let them do so’ just out of interest to see what would happen hypothetically as I do find it somewhat weird how they claim under the treaty when they mostly disregard it completely.

      The second part of your comment I acknowledge too but was curious as to what could be done to prevent the hand coming back for more if they fritter away what was given out.

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