New Zealand’s Treaty of Waitangi: a model for collaboration as equals

the TreatyToday is Waitangi Day in Aotearoa New Zealand. It is a public holiday. The day when we recognise the Treaty of Waitangi, which is in many ways the founding document of our nation. It is why we call our country Aotearoa as well as New Zealand and why M?ori is an official language of New Zealand. Although our short history is littered with breaches of the Treaty, and the Treaty itself is fraught with problems, the document describes a partnership between equals that is worth aspiring to. 

I should not be working. I should be reflecting on Te Tiriti and what it means to me, to my country and to the World. It turns out, I am doing both. And I am reflecting on what it means to the business of fostering collaboration in organisations.

Building culture of collaboration takes leadership. But leading collaboration is not easy. There is no map. We have to use our own knowledge, skills and resources — and to maintain our resilience through the challenges that arise. Where do leaders of collaboration look for inspiration? Perhaps Aotearoa’s journey with the Tiriti o Waitangi can offer some.

Collaboration is a process that takes place between individuals of equal status. It is an alternative to the hierarchical model of power and control that characterises many human institutions. It is an alternative to market-style transactions. Both of these tend to favour zero sum transactions. Collaboration aims to achieve a result that is better for all participants, a non-zero-sum game. It is based on values such as generosity, reciprocity and trust.

We often aspire to collaboration as equals in organisations, where it must co-exists with the power imbalances that are almost inevitable. We aspire to collaboration as equals in couples where we know that power imbalances lead to misery. And we aspire to collaboration in nations where the welfare state enjoys part of the economic mix. In all these cases, collaboration is difficult. There are few models. Command and control and market solutions are a constant temptation. Collaboration between indigenous people and colonists is difficult to the point of being almost unheard of.

Relations between M?ori and P?keh? (New Zealanders of European descent) can hardly be held up as a model of collaboration. The Treaty is mostly ignored and breached. For most of the 174 years since the signing of the Treaty, P?keh? committed atrocities against M?ori. Today, M?ori health, education and socio-economic status badly lag those of P?keh?.

In the last twenty years, the Treaty has finally begun to gain some recognition in New Zealand. The government has begun a Treaty Settlements process and has recognised the Treaty in its policies. Awareness of the Treaty and conversations around it have become more commonplace.

I can recall a moment of discovery in a Treaty education workshop I attended in the late 1980s. The workshop facilitator explained that there were three groups of people in this country. The first is the Tangata Whenua — literally “the people of the land”, the indigenous people. The second is Tangata Tiriti — the people of the Treaty, those non-indigenous people who are here as partners on the basis described in the Treaty. The third group is those who are here by conquest.

I knew then that, as a P?keh?, I did not want to be a member of my nation by conquest. Since then my participation as a member of the Tangata Tiriti has been a gradual journey. It is part of my life to learn a little of the language and culture of the Tangata Whenua. And I gradually learn ways to respect that culture. I participate in many organisations that strive to be Treaty-based. Schools, health providers, professional associations and government organisations are all engaging in this process.

All of this is far too little far too late. And many of us are still content to ignore the Treaty. For most New Zealanders, Waitangi Day is a day off in the sun. I can not confidently say that things are getting much better. Despite that, we are better off with a Treaty than we would be without one. Many of us, M?ori and P?keh? are struggling with the process of becoming a Treaty-based nation. We muddle along, mostly in the unknown, through a difficult process. The Treaty gives us a guide. It provides a notion of partnership as equals between indigenous and non-indigenous people. Something for us to aspire to.  And that is a great deal more than most colonial nations have.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.