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Te Papa should remove English version of the Treaty of Waitangi – Māori legal expert

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Te Papa Museum in Wellington.

By Jemima Huston, RNZ

A Māori legal expert is urging Te Papa to listen to protesters and remove its large display of the English version of the Treaty of Waitangi.

Twelve people were arrested yesterday after attacking the exhibition and using spray paint and an angle grinder to damage a wooden display panel.

The group, Te Waka Hourua, says the English text wrongly states that Māori ceded sovereignty.

Kaihautū for Māori Laws and Philosophy at Te Wānanga o Raukawa and honorary associate professor of Māori studies at the Victoria University of Wellington, Carwyn Jones, said Te Papa’s Treaty of Waitangi exhibition needs to change.

He said there was confusion about Te Tiriti and Te Papa’s exhibition added to that.

“At the moment the exhibition at Te Papa makes it look as though there are these two equal documents and there’s some debate and discussion between them and we know that actually that’s not true.”

The protesters want the exhibition redesigned, with the large English version of the Treaty removed and a direct translation of the te reo Māori text added in.

They said the display should make it explicit that Māori never ceded sovereignty, contrary to what is in the English document which rangatira never signed.

Carwyn Jones says the te reo Māori should be the basis of Te Papa's display.
Carwyn Jones says the te reo Māori should be the basis of Te Papa’s display.

Carwyn Jones backed those demands.

He said the te reo Māori text is the substantiative agreement and should be the basis of Te Papa’s display.

“Explain some of the history of how it’s been interpreted and explain some of the differences between what the English version is and what Te Tiriti says. But I think it’s really important for an institution like Te Papa to be really clear about centring the te reo text of Te Tiriti.”

Te Waka Hourua spokesperson Haimana Hirini said the current exhibition misinforms people.

“The reasons why some people are espousing the rubbish about Te Tiriti out there is because official entities like Te Papa continue to hold on to a false narrative. They naturally think, well Te Papa’s saying it so it must be true and it’s not true.”

Another member of the group, Cally O’Neill, hopes the protest sparks further discussion about Te Tiriti.

“Why is it that we are focusing so much on the English version still?

“We see political parties that are upholding these colonial fictions at the moment, and it is creating some really dangerous situations in our community and building racism and division.”

Aotearoa Liberation League and Te Waka Hourua protesting at Te Papa on  December 11 over the English text of Te Tiriti o Waitangi displayed in the museum. Photo / RNZ / Angus Dreaver
Aotearoa Liberation League and Te Waka Hourua protesting at Te Papa on December 11 over the English text of Te Tiriti o Waitangi displayed in the museum. Photo / RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Te Papa’s Kaihautū or Māori co-leader, Dr Arapata Hakiwai, defended the exhibition on Checkpoint on Monday.

He said it does explain the critical difference between the Māori and English texts.

“The space was always there to be a centre of debate and discussion to provoke people into understanding that more, but clearly the protesters felt otherwise.”

Te Papa has not said whether the exhibition will change as a result of the protest.

But Carwyn Jones said it was misleading for the museum to continue with the current display.

“It’s particularly important that this be addressed at this time when there is such important discussion around the place, the place of Te Tiriti, around te ao Māori as we respond to the government’s coalition agreements and the policy programmes that they’ve laid out.”

He hoped Te Papa listened to the protesters.



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