We could be more understanding by learning te reo, but it’s hard to modify your ethnicity

Dunno if Vernon Small has been learning te reo.

But he thinks New Zealanders generally should spend public money preserving it.

His reasoning (on page B5 of the Dom Post but not online) is simple –

It is a taonga guaranteed by the Treaty – perhaps the pre-eminent taonga.

Well bugger, Alf muttered on reading this.

Don’t remember that bit of the deal.

Let’s check it out.

He consulted this document to brush up on his knowledge of the treaty.

The fascinating thing was finding how translators have gone to work on the original document.

That’s what makes it a living document, presumably.

We will find out in a few years that we were wrong with our modern-day version, and that it has been freshly translated to suit the demands of Maori at that time.

Here’s the original second article of this ever-changing document.

Her Majesty the Queen of England confirms and guarantees to the Chiefs and Tribes of New Zealand and to the respective families and individuals thereof the full exclusive and undisturbed possession of their Lands and Estates Forests Fisheries and other properties which they may collectively or individually possess so long as it is their wish and
desire to retain the same in their possession; but the Chiefs of the United Tribes and the individual Chiefs yield to Her Majesty the exclusive right of Preemption over such lands as the proprietors thereof may be disposed to alienate at such prices as may be agreed upon between the respective Proprietors and
persons appointed by Her Majesty to treat with them in that behalf.

The Maori version of that clause, by the way, does not include the words “te reo” but it does include the word “taonga”.

Professor Hugh Kawharu makes much of this in his translation into English of the Maori version of article two.

One big advantage is to make matters a mite more succinct.

But if this is what we non-Maori thought it was all about back in 1840 – well, would we have signed it?

Anyway, here’s the modern-day English translation of the Maori version:

The Queen of England agrees to protect the chiefs, the subtribes and all the people of New Zealand in the unqualified exercise of their chieftainship over their lands, villages and all their treasures. But on the other hand the Chiefs of the Confederation and all the Chiefs will sell land to the Queen at a price agreed to by the person owning it and by the person buying it (the latter being) appointed by the Queen as her purchase agent.

Hmm. Treasures. What’s that all about?

At this juncture we have our attention drawn to the notes of the aforementioned Sir Hugh Kawharu, a former member of the Waitangi Tribunal.

He tells us the meaning of “treasures” or “taonga”.

And guess what?

The bugger relies not on submissions to the treaty negotiators, but on submissions to the Waitangi Tribunal to tell us what that meaning is.

Neat trick, eh?

And so he tells us –

As submissions to the Waitangi Tribunal concerning the Maori
language have made clear, “taonga” refers to all dimensions of a tribal group’s estate, material and non-material heirlooms and wahi tapu (sacred places), ancestral lore and whakapapa (genealogies), etc.”

Alf does get a big warm buzz when he sees “etc” used in this way.

This is likely to be a Maori “etc” rather than a Latin “etc” and so – for the purposes of legal precision – can mean whatever a tribunal claimant says it means.

The cream on the treaty cake has yet to come.

It’s when this wonderful living treaty becomes the basis for our constitution, which is the earnest objective of many of the do-gooders engaged in the constitutional consultations.

It’s just what this country needs.

A constitution that means whatever a tribunal claimant says it should mean.

And fair to say, te reo can be used in all sorts of useful ways, as Vernon Small’s story today makes plain.

The story is not so much about te reo as about the Maori Language Commission and the way it spends public money (from the Government’s publicly provided treasure chest) on preserving te reo (the aforementioned Maori treasure).

Small reckons serous questions should be raised about whether the Maori Language Commission has been spending its money (that is, the money we gave it) properly.

Even raising the question opens the media to accusations of Maori bashing and double standards, Small says.

“When our reporter Kate Chapman asked one senior figure from the commission she was told, in essence, he did not trust the mainstream media and anyway she was not Maori so would not understand.”

That’s Alf’s problem, too. He does not understand.

And according to the Maori Language Commission, he will never understand.

He could take care of the te reo bit of his shortcomings by learning it.

But he can never overcome the serious handicap of not being Maori.

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