Treaty wit­ness

The Dominion Post - - National Portrait -

In 1952 the peo­ple of Nga¯ ti Wha¯ tua were forcibly evicted from their set­tle­ment in Okahu Bay, near Auck­land’s Bas­tion Point. Those who re­sisted till the end were phys­i­cally car­ried from their dwellings, their vil­lage burnt to the ground. One man threw him­self back into his burn­ing home.

Dame Clau­dia Orange, just 14 at the time, was a wit­ness to these events brought on by the Crown, which had con­sid­ered the site an eye­sore on a route the Queen would be tak­ing on a royal visit.

Orange and her father, Monty Bell, who worked in Ma¯ ori Af­fairs and knew many of the peo­ple of Nga¯ ti Wha¯ tua, had driven there to try to help.

‘‘We stopped and saw the fire burn­ing down the vil­lage and Dad said, ‘This is dread­ful’. He put his head on the steer­ing wheel and cried.

‘‘I’ll never for­get that. You could hear peo­ple shout­ing and wail­ing. It was just aw­ful.’’

The ex­pe­ri­ence was an­other weave in a thread of Te Ao Ma¯ ori that has run through Orange’s life.

The Okahu Bay evic­tion and the com­mit­ment of her father in im­prov­ing the Ma¯ ori sit­u­a­tion shaped her. It still does.

Dressed in a smart black suit, Orange gives a tour of Te Papa’s Tory St digs, where she is an hon­orary re­search fel­low, in­tro­duc­ing her col­leagues and ad­vo­cat­ing the virtues of sev­eral as po­ten­tial in­ter­vie­wees. This per­son is the bird guru, that scholar an ex­pert on mol­luscs.

But to­day it is Orange, con­sid­ered the guru on all mat­ters Treaty, whose mind is worth min­ing.

Her 1987 book The Treaty of Wai­tangi, which won the Good­man Fielder Wat­tie Book of the Year, brought Crown-Ma¯ ori is­sues into sharp fo­cus at a time when there was vir­tu­ally no schol­arly ma­te­rial to be found on the Treaty.

When Orange be­gan work on her sem­i­nal book in 1985 there were very few ar­ti­cles or books to ref­er­ence. To­day there are more than 4000.

It be­came an in­stant best-seller and pub­lisher Brid­get Wil­liams Books was reprint­ing af­ter just three weeks. To date it has sold more than 50,000 copies.

It came out at a po­tent time for Ma¯ oridom. The New Zealand Ma¯ ori Coun­cil had brought the 1987 Lands Case to the Court of Ap­peal to stop the gov­ern­ment sell­ing land and other as­sets they felt could be part of a Treaty set­tle­ment process.

‘‘We had all of us grown up on the myth that this was the best treaty that Bri­tain had ever made, that it was the ba­sis for good race re­la­tions in this coun­try. What we hadn’t had the ex­pe­ri­ence of was of any good teach­ing about it in sec­ondary school be­cause there was no ba­sis for them to use as a re­source,’’ says Orange.

The book was de­vel­oped out of her 1984 PhD, which had came out of her mas­ters the­sis on the pe­riod her father worked in Ma¯ ori Af­fairs – the pe­riod of A¯ pi­rana Ngata and the first gov­ern­ment al­lot­ment of money for de­vel­op­ment of Ma¯ ori land in the 1930s.

While she wasn’t al­ways aware of the Treaty, Orange says it was quite clear to her from a young age that Ma¯ ori were in­creas­ingly at the bot­tom of the heap, so­cially and eco­nom­i­cally.

Her father, who had grown up learn­ing te reo Ma¯ ori at high school, had taken her on his trav­els up north and the poverty-stricken peo­ple and the con­di­tions they lived in shocked her.

‘‘As a child I re­mem­ber Dad work­ing at Ma¯ ori Af­fairs. I re­mem­ber the phone go­ing at night and it would be Whina Cooper want­ing to talk about the de­vel­op­ment of land in the north. She would come to din­ner and they would be speak­ing Ma¯ ori. It was nor­mal.

‘‘I just ac­cepted the fact that Ma¯ ori had re­ally im­por­tant is­sues they were deal­ing with as a whole in this coun­try.’’

Orange, whose mother was a descen­dant of the Puhoi Ger­man com­mu­nity, was raised in Auck­land with her two older sis­ters.

As a Catholic, she was taught to see is­sues, think them through, judge what could be done then act on them: see, judge and act be­came a crit­i­cal part of her way of op­er­at­ing as far back as her teenage years.

At St Mary’s in Auck­land she learned fast that strong women ruled the place so it was a shock to leave school and dis­cover men were run­ning the world, she says.

She stud­ied school den­tal nurs­ing purely be­cause she couldn’t think of any­thing else to do and at 20 mar­ried Rod Orange, whom she had met dur­ing Lent when she was go­ing to mass ev­ery day. Faith has been an­other thread through­out her life.

Af­ter the birth of their third child, they upped sticks to Bangkok, where Rod had been given a job set­ting up an English lan­guage in­sti­tute for the Thai gov­ern­ment.

When they came back af­ter three and a half years, she en­rolled at univer­sity for the first time, study­ing the ef­fects of colo­nial­ism in Asia, Aus­tralia and fi­nally, New Zealand.

The Treaty of Wai­tangi and its sub­se­quent up­dates, along with her work on the Dic­tio­nary of New Zealand Bi­og­ra­phy and as head of re­search at Te Papa, has been about get­ting New Zealand to know it­self bet­ter.

But it is the Treaty that is at the heart of her on­go­ing work. While we have come a long way, the road of un­der­stand­ing stretches ahead. ‘‘All our knowl­edge has greatly ex­panded. In­creas­ingly, we re­alise the ex­tent to which Ma¯ ori all the way through the 19th cen­tury were try­ing to get gov­ern­ment at­ten­tion to the fact that their un­der­stand­ing of the Treaty was vari­able from the gov­ern­ment one. You have to ask why didn’t gov­ern­ment lis­ten? And it still seems to me to be a prob­lem some­times. You see his­tory re­peat­ing it­self.

‘‘Any­one over 60 is still likely to have at­ti­tudes that are from a time when we all thought the Treaty was great. They just hope when all the set­tle­ments are done the prob­lems will van­ish but you have to un­der­stand there’s much more at stake than that,’’ she says.

‘‘There are not just Treaty set­tle­ments but cus­tom­ary rights that are still not be­ing com­pletely sorted out. We saw that with fish­eries, fore­shore and seabed.

‘‘We don’t have a con­sti­tu­tion. How frag­ile is our present un­der­stand­ing of rights in our na­tion with­out any de­fined con­sti­tu­tion?’’

It’s go­ing to take time for the coun­try to re­alise that this is an on­go­ing re­la­tion­ship the coun­try is talk­ing, she says.

‘‘The bet­ter un­der­stand­ing we have of it, the more we can grap­ple with ma­jor prob­lems of the so­cio eco­nomic kind we have.’’

Orange, who has just been awarded the Pou Aronui Award from the Royal So­ci­ety Te Apa¯ rangi for ser­vices to hu­man­i­ties, is as busy as she ever was. At 80, re­tire­ment is not on the agenda.

But she does have a life out­side the Treaty. She and Rod used to travel a lot till Rod had a stroke in 2016 while they were in France.

She is a yogi and looks as fit as a fid­dle for what she calls her ‘‘old peo­ple’s’’ yoga ses­sions.

You have to keep at it, she says quot­ing Ulysses: ‘‘To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.’’

She loves a good de­tec­tive novel. ‘‘Who dunit and why? If you think about it, that’s what his­tory is all about: who dunit and why?’’

Af­ter more than half a cen­tury look­ing at our own his­tory, Orange is hope­ful that re­la­tions be­tween Ma¯ ori and the Crown will con­tinue to im­prove.

‘‘The big drive is to find some con­sti­tu­tional change that would give greater se­cu­rity to shar­ing of au­thor­ity in the coun­try with

Ma¯ ori. You have to un­der­stand how dif­fi­cult it can be for Ma¯ ori and you can if you’re a woman. You know how dif­fi­cult it is to be at the top ta­ble.’’

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