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Gospel and Treaty relationships at critical crossroads for church

Keith Newman, author of Bible & Treaty and Beyond Betrayal was a keynote speaker at last November’s Baptist Gathering in Auckland. The following is based on the various presentations he gave.

By Keith Newman with artworks by Paula Novak ©

Keith Newman at the Gathering 2013Over this year the Christian church has a unique opportunity to reflect on how it will respond to the commemoration of two nation-shaping events, the 200th anniversary of the first Christian sermon and 175 years since the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.

While some maintain that New Zealand is no longer a Christian nation, or perhaps never was, the reality is that many of our foundational stories, including those surrounding the Treaty, are profoundly Christian.

Through writing about the Maori prophet T.W. Ratana and the interconnected stories of missionary and Maori in Bible & Treaty (Penguin 2010) and Beyond Betrayal (Penguin 2013), I was left wondering why such rich local church history has been so badly neglected.

As a believer, I felt myself reconnected into a distinctly New Zealand unfolding of Christianity, but aware of unfinished business where the mainstream ‘church’—the often silent Treaty partner—had dropped the ball in its once vital relationship with Maori.

Commissioned for service

For most of the pioneering missionaries; Wesleyan (WMS) and Church Missionary Society (CMS) representatives and later the Catholics, the commitment to Maori was hugely sacrificial and even prophetic.

Responding to the Great Commission of Jesus the Christ, to go “to the ends of the world” and preach the Gospel so the Holy Spirit (Wairua Tapu) may be poured out on all flesh, they left the comforts of home to live primitively and serve a people they knew little about.

They were invited by Ngapuhi chief Ruatara, and his predecessor Te Pahi, to teach the children and bring a slice of heaven to counter the anarchy of ship’s crews exploiting Maori in every conceivable way at the trading port of Kororareka (Russell), ‘the hell hole of the Pacific’.

Tidings of Joy with pioneering mission head Samuel Marsden and Tamihana Te Rauparaha, who with his cousin Matene Te Whiwhi bought missionary Octavius Hadfield to Wellington in 1939 just as the NZ Company claimed to have purchased all the land. Artist: Paula Novak ©When, on Christmas Day 1814, Rev Samuel Marsden proclaimed the words spoken by an angel at the birth of Christ: “glad tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people” (Luke 2: 10) he planted the seed of a new faith that by his seventh visit in 1837 had produced a rich harvest.

After barely surviving the Musket Wars in a decade of no conversions, a second wave of missionaries shifted the focus from ‘civilise first’ to ‘gospel first’.

The peacemaking of former Navy lieutenant Henry Williams and the scholarly efforts of his brother William, who co-ordinated CMS and Wesleyan translation work for a Maori language version of the Kawenata Hou (New Testament), changed the game.

Maori evangelise themselves

Former Maori slaves, who had attended the various mission schools, took the Gospel message back to their own people. By 1836, New Zealand had become one of the most successful mission fields in the world.

Thousands of copies of the Kawenata Hou were cranked out on William Colenso’s press but soon the demand was so great they had to be printed in Britain, sparking a literary and cultural revolution, further promoting peace and revitalising the Maori economy.

Converts knew there was only one God and all people were equal in his sight. They were freed from the old fears and superstitions that required constant appeasement of the spirit world; cannibalism was ended and rather than eternal utu (reciprocity) for old grievances there was a once and for all forgiveness.

By the time the Treaty of Waitangi was signed about 50% of the Maori population were considered Christian, a momentum that would no doubt have continued if the Anglican hierarchy under Bishop Augustus Selwyn had not raised the bar so high for Maori to qualify as teachers, deacons and ministers.

Maori were also held back politically. It started well when northern chiefs chose the St George Cross to fly on trading vessels then adopted it for the United Tribes Declaration of Independence on 28 October 1835.

Dirty deeds done dirt cheap

Ironically, the New Zealand Company planted the same flag in Wellington in September 1839 as it began its private land speculation, dividing up 6,000 pounds of low value goods over four months for any chief prepared to sell.

The NZ Company was strongly opposed by the British Government, the CMS, the WMS and the Aborigines Protection Society in London and conveniently ignored the local missionaries’ vast knowledge of the language, land ownership and relationships built up with Maori over 25 years.

They’d already pre-sold land they did not own, mostly to investors who would never live here, and were desperate for dirt cheap deals as ship loads of settlers were already on their way.

NZ Company founder Edward Gibbon Wakefield instructed his younger brother William, to purchase Maori land at the lowest possible price with 10% set aside as ‘reserves’ when Maori had shown themselves civilised enough.

Over four months they acquired 8 million hectares in Nelson, Wellington, Wanganui and Taranaki. At the time there were around 150,000 Maori and 2,000 European settlers; within five years Maori numbers had halved and the settler population had rocketed to 12,774.

Maori were overwhelmed and their sense of betrayal was as tangible as it was for the economic refugees from England, Ireland, and Scotland, sucked in by the company’s slick marketing promising a Maori welcome, unencumbered land, jobs and a new life at the edge of the world.

Many ended up labouring on public works programmes, struggling with scrub to carve out a living or waiting endlessly for disputes to be resolved.

Colonisation hand forced

The British hand was forced. Colonial Office under-secretary James Stephen Jnr insisted that if colonisation was to go ahead it must not repeat Britain’s horrific record with other indigenous peoples.

Stephen, a humanitarian Christian and nephew of William Wilberforce, prepared instructions for Governor Hobson. In return for ceding governorship or sovereignty, Queen Victoria promised Maori her protection, equal rights alongside British citizens and “exclusive and undisturbed possession of their lands, estates, fisheries and forests” for as long as they desired.

If they sold land, it had to be through the Crown at agreed prices. All existing sales were to be investigated. After the investigations the Crown took over and from 1841 employed the NZ Company as a purchasing agent, essentially making the land grab official.

Within a few years the Treaty of Waitangi was being treated as insignificant. The Christians in the Colonial Office were gone and the land pressure increased as more dispossessed Europeans were encouraged to set sail for paradise in the Pacific.

Undermining every Treaty clause was the principal of acquiring all ‘wastelands’—land not lived on or being put to productive use, at least in the western sense.

The first land protests at Wairau near Blenheim in June 1843, where NZ Company representatives fired the first shot, and then Hone Heke’s flagpole protests in the Bay of Islands from 1844-45, were further evidence the so-called partnership was in tatters.

By 1845 CMS head Henry Williams admitted matters were out of his hands. The use of British troops in the Far North lit a taper that would soon smoulder and splutter its way to incendiary outburst across the belly of the land.

As governors Gore Browne and Grey applied divide and conquer tactics, war was provoked at Waitara in Taranaki in 1860 followed by the invasion of Waikato in 1863; all Maori saw were broken promises and more than 1.45m hectares of their land confiscated.

The great irony is that having so many British troops in the country for so long cost the settler government more than the sale of the land they hoped to profit from.

Failed social experiments

The troubles set in motion by the Wakefields and their ‘systematic colonisation’ theories, uncannily similar to those of Governor Grey and his passion for racial assimilation and acquiring land at all costs, are at the root of bitterness many Maori still feel today.

Numerous petitions, detailing injustices and Treaty breaches, were placed before the Government and taken to England by chiefs and kings; often supported by key churchmen and missionaries.

Despite appeals to law and reason, Maori were denied a voice in contesting the speed of their own dispossession but always declared a continuing desire to work in partnership with Pakeha.

An important petition that ultimately helped revive the Treaty was finally presented to Parliament on 25 November 1932, eight years after it had been rejected by the New Zealand and British governments.

Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana, the Maori, healer, prophet and visionary who gathered signatures from 40,000 Maori to have the Treaty of Waitangi recognised in law. Artist: Paula Noivak ©It was compiled by Maori prophet and visionary T.W. Ratana and King Movement tumuaki (leader) Tupu Taingakawa Te Waharoa, the son of Tamihana the first kingmaker, and signed by two thirds of all Maori.

Ratana Independent MP, Eruera Tirikatene, in tabling the petition, asked for the Treaty of Waitangi to be tabled as part of the laws of the country “. . . to preserve the ties of brotherhood between Pakeha and Maori for all time.” Despite the 40,000 signatures, it took 14 years to be processed and even longer to be acted on.

No Treaty without missionaries

After a long and painful process, the Treaty of Waitangi is back at centre stage, reminding all New Zealanders of the original commitment between two peoples to work together for the future good of the nation.

Without the arrival of the Gospel 200 years ago the Treaty of Waitangi would not have been signed. The Church has an important role in this unfolding narrative, particularly when you consider Colenso and Hone Heke’s conversation with Governor Hobson, placing responsibility for helping Maori understand the Treaty, squarely on the shoulders of our spiritual ancestors, the missionaries.

Yes, we’ve passed the billion dollar cap set in 1994; and it may even end up being double that, but before we respond with unhelpful attitudes, we desperately need to get some context around this.

The Government’s bail out Christchurch insurer AMI doubled to $1.9 billion in 2013; the Hubbard Management Fund cost the Government $800 million; the leaky homes crisis was $4.8 billion and is rapidly rising and we’ll spend $23.6 billion on welfare in the 2013-14 year.

On 31 July 2009 a settlement was finally reached on the Wellington and Taranaki Treaty claim, directly related to the Wakefield purchases and the subsequent underhand deals that led to the illegal invasion of Wiremu Kingi’s land at Waitara, which sparked the land wars.

Road to reconciliation

In sealing the settlement, the late Sir Paul Reeves made the first statement of forgiveness from an iwi to the Crown. “Our forgiveness comes from our painful history . . . An apology, forgiveness, leads on to the greatest prize, which is reconciliation.”

Many significant Treaty settlements have been made since then and I am told there is a collective sigh of relief whenever this happens and a tangible sense of mana and trust being restored.

Unless we come to respect the shared stories of how we got to where we are, including the important role of Maori and missionary heroes of the faith, then getting to where we want to go, will be a more difficult journey than it needs to be.

The wero, or challenge, for the Church today is to engage across denominational and tribal boundaries, as kaitiaki (caretakers) of the principles of forgiveness and reconciliation through developing Christ-like relationships and accepting the Maori may again hold the key to any ‘revival’ among their own people.

As we prepare to commemorate and reflect on the impact of the Gospel and the Treaty of Waitangi perhaps the wisest thing that can be said is to repeat the words of Maori prophet and visionary Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana:

“In one of my hands is the Bible; in the other the Treaty of Waitangi. If the spiritual side is attended to, all will be well on the physical side.”

As another wise person; my father, an 88 year old former Anglican minister, once said, there are too many people walking around with the Treaty in one hand and nothing in the other.


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