After Barbados, a small country of 285,000 inhabitants which left the British crown on November 30, 2021 to become a republic, the Māori Party of New Zealand is in turn demanding neither more nor less than a formal divorce with the monarchy.
A “new marriage”
New Zealand is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system of government. But on February 6, the 182nd anniversary of the Treaty of Waitangi, Rawiri Waititi, the co-leader of the Māori Party, wished “reimagining a more rewarding and meaningful partnership where indigenous peoples would no longer be linked in the texts to the British monarchy and where the relationship would be reviewed as a “new marriage” with London. For the party and its vice-president Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, the creation of a Māori parliament would be the only solution to guarantee “rights, self-determination and autonomy in all areas”.
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The Treaty of Waitangi, signed in 1840 by the British and Māori, formally made New Zealand a British colony and can be considered the founding act of New Zealand as a nation. He was to guarantee the natives the protection by the crown of their rights to their lands. But in a century, the latter have lost more than 90% of these, following confiscations by the crown or sales by private persons, the government or the refusal by justice to recognize collective lands.
The British Empire imposed brutal cultural assimilation on Māori and banned the teaching of the Māori language in New Zealand schools. In the 1860s, controversies over disputed land purchases and the attempt by Māori in the Waikato region to establish a competing monarchy on the British model further soured relations, leading to wars. In retaliation, London confiscated land belonging to the natives.
Land, a controversial subject
It was not until the 1960s that the Māori experienced a true cultural renaissance. Recognition by the then Labor government of the importance of Māori political power as well as their political activism led to limited restitution and compensation. The land issue is still a controversial subject today. With the development of bathing establishments, aquaculture and offshore oil drilling, the Māori have seen their maritime space dwindle. In 2003, they demanded to be systematically consulted on these projects and to receive dividends when they materialized.
But while some former British colonies are demanding to cut ties with the British monarchy, this movement is far from being the majority in New Zealand. According to a poll carried out by Colmar Brunton in 2021, it appears that only a third of New Zealanders want to end the monarchy, while 47% are against and 20% are undecided.
Prime Minister Jacinda Arden, who claims to be a republican, believes that her country will inevitably become a republic one day, but she has announced that she will not organize a referendum in this direction during her mandate.
A complete turnaround
The Māori Party declaration is a complete reversal and illustrates the divisions within the indigenous family. In 2017, when the party was led by Te Ururoa Flavell, he opposed any such change. According to him, removing the Queen’s status as Head of State, “repealed the Treaty of Waitangi and therefore the rights of Māori in this country, guaranteed by this founding treaty”. For him, given the colonial history and the almost systematic confiscation of their lands, rights and resources, “Any discussion aimed at cutting ties with the Queen or establishing a republic would be an extremely naive decision”.
Today the Māori Party holds just two seats (out of 120) in New Zealand’s Labour-dominated Parliament and is seeking to bring about constitutional reform, including the creation of a Māori parliament.
“The only way this country works is for Maori to assert their self-determination in all areas. Our goal is a constitutional amendment that would restore the tino rangatiratanga (the full sovereignty) of the “tangata whenua” (the people of the earth) in this country”Māori party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said on February 6.