Book casts new light on Treaty settlement process

A new book, written by a Victoria University of Wellington academic and supported by an NPM Publication Support Grant, argues that genuine and durable reconciliation can occur only when the importance of Māori legal traditions in the Treaty of Waitangi settlement process is recognised.

New Treaty, New Tradition—written by Dr Carwyn Jones, a senior lecturer in Victoria’s Faculty of Law and a leading academic in the area of Māori and indigenous peoples’ legal issues—will be launched at the Faculty of Law on Thursday 8 December.

Combining analysis with Māori storytelling, the book explores how the resolution of historical Treaty of Waitangi claims continues to shape Māori and state legal traditions and suggests ways in which indigenous legal traditions can form an important part of reconciliation processes in other parts of the world.

Dr Jones says legal cultures change in response to social and economic environments and that, inevitably, the settlement of historical claims has affected issues of identity, rights, and resource management.

“Western legal thought has shaped the claims process in a range of ways. The Treaty settlement process requires Māori communities to prescribe membership status and rights, to resolve disputes, to elect leaders and establish governance bodies in ways that Western law has developed and can recognise.

“The very real danger for Māori and Māori legal traditions in interactions with the Treaty settlement process is that the effects may represent an ongoing colonisation of tikanga Māori rather than a healthy expression of tino rangatiratanga as part of a dynamic, living, legal culture.”

Dr Jones says the story that runs through his book is one of a settlement process that undermines the objectives of self-determination and reconciliation because of the pressures it places on Māori legal traditions.

“But it need not be this way. If parties to the Treaty settlement process take these objectives seriously, and pay careful attention to changes to Māori legal traditions that take place in the context of that process, a different story can be told—a story in which Treaty settlements signify not the end of a Treaty relationship, but a new beginning.”

Dr Jones says it is not just Māori who are dealing with these kinds of issues, as indigenous peoples around the globe engage in reconciliation or transitional justice processes and face the challenges of re-asserting self-determination in a postcolonial world.

“Examining the framework for the settlement of historical Treaty of Waitangi claims allows us to explore the role that indigenous legal traditions can play in these processes.”

New Treaty, New Tradition - is published by the University of British Columbia Press, with the support of Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga and distributed by Victoria University Press.