Yep, they were here first, and now they want to cash in on the radio waves (as our partners, of course)

The Wall Street Journal has caught up with the fact we have some special people in New Zealand, although it calls these special people our first people.

The hack who wrote the article said here it wasn’t uncommon for indigenous groups to claim rights to a nation’s raw materials.

But she is surprised – it seems – that in New Zealand, Maori tribes are asserting ownership of a much more unusual resource: Radio waves.

Maybe she would not be surprised if she knew there has been a misunderstanding about the role played in the development of radio by a bloke generally known as Marconi, who is credited with doing important pioneering work on long distance radio transmission and for his development of Marconi’s law and a radio telegraph system.

But as one of Alf’s Maori mates explained to him years ago, the bloke’s name was Maakaungi [marˈkoːni]. Yep. One of our indigenous people.

If the Wall Street Journal had been aware of this, no doubt its tone would have been eminently more respectful.

The journal reported:

According to New Zealand’s first people, the government doesn’t have the authority to auction off spectrum valued at up to 400 million New Zealand dollars (US$314 million)–earmarked for so-called fourth-generation services—because Britain guaranteed the rights of unspecified national resources to Maori in a landmark 173-year-old treaty.

Maori say that makes the spectrum their rightful property, even though the pact predates the invention of the radio by several decades. The dispute threatens to delay New Zealand’s rollout of 4G technology at a time when demand for faster mobile-broadband services is rising rapidly. The government had planned to auction the spectrum in September or October.

Antony Royal, a spokesman for the claimants, said Maori wanted to play a role in deciding who uses the spectrum, how it is allocated and to ensure Maori have access to it.

“What we need to do is figure how in the spirit of partnership we will manage this on an continuing basis,” he said.

Alf always loves to hear our special people invoke the spirit of partnership. It means they have got the strong whiff if a buck to be made.

It seems this partnership lark has become infectious. The WSJ says of the Maori claim:

It comes as indigenous groups around the world seek a greater share of the spoils from asset sales. In the U.S., which has more than 2 million Native Americans and 565 recognized Indian tribes, lawsuits have occasionally followed the sale of mineral rights during a boom in shale-oil production.

Several world leaders, including Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Ecuador’s Rafael Correa, rely on support among their countries’ indigenous population to stay in power.

The WSJ goes on to say that many New Zealanders regard the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi as a document of national importance on a par with the US Declaration of Independence.

This is true, of course. Many people do make this comparison, although they tend to be special people or Pakeha steeped in political correctness.

The absurdity of comparing the treaty with the US Declaration of Independence becomes obvious the moment you ask an American if it was written in one language or two, and if it was written in more than one language, how much disagreement is there about what it actually says.

According to the WSJ, our treaty…

lays down basic principles for relations between the nation’s European settlers and Maori tribes that have helped New Zealand largely avoid the kind of fierce independence struggles faced elsewhere in the British Empire.

Alf still struggles to find agreement on what those principles might be. But his Maori mates tell him this simply tells them he does not share their world view.

The WSJ goes on…

Still, the treaty has long made for thorny politics in New Zealand. While it guaranteed Maori ownership and control of “taonga,” or treasure and precious things, it never stated what those were. Maori say the 700 MHz spectrum qualifies, but ministers disagree.

“The government doesn’t accept that radio spectrum is a taonga,” said Amy Adams, New Zealand’s minister responsible for telecommunications.

But we do recognise that our Maori people are special people and we have a well known track record for treating them as such when it comes to things like this. Betcha they finish up with a slice of the action.

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