'Tough road so far' for Māori since Tiriti, says top judge

Source: 1News

It’s been a tough road so far for Māori in Aotearoa, but there has been some progress, reflects Justice Tā Joe Williams on Waitangi Day.

Waitangi Day 2022 saw many leaders from around the country, including the Prime Minister, give speeches virtually due to Covid-19 restrictions putting a stop to the majority of in-person events.

Tā (sir) Joe Williams (Ngāti Pukenga, Waitaha, Tapuika), the country's first Māori Supreme Court Justice was one of the day's speakers.

He appeared on a live TV3 broadcast and shared his thoughts on how far the country had come since the Treaty of Waitangi was first signed 182 years ago. And how far it still had to go.

He spoke two weeks ago for the Waitangi Day broadcast on Sunday.

"I think it's been a tough road so far, we've made some real progress in treaty settlements, in reo, education," Tā Joe said.

He said there were some "good signs" of progress for Māori over the years, most recently the strong demand among non-Māori to learn te reo.

But, there was still a long way to go, he said.

"In my job as a judge I know that Māori are seven-times more likely to go to jail than non-Māori. And the statistics just go on and on.

"Will the struggle end? No, of course not. Because every generation renegotiates this. As long as we walk in understanding that the treaty signified a fundamental partnership then each generation renegotiates and rebalances that partnership.

"It has to, because it's got to be relevant for its time."

Tā Joe grew up in the 80s, and was a member of Aotearoa, a band that had protest songs, even about Waitangi. Maranga Ake Ai was one of them.

His generation, he reflected, was one of the first to directly challenge the Treaty's "orthodoxy" within Aotearoa.

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"Urban born, urban raised and unhappy about the sense of second classness that was felt.

"Our ideas about Waitangi were not fully formed then. We just knew there was a lot to be unhappy about and we wanted the motu (country) both Māori and Pākehā to understand the anguish of a generation that had been disconnected from culture, language and land."

In the last 40 years some of the old attitudes were being unpicked, and replaced with attitudes that were more healthy, Tā Joe said.

But there was a long way to go in "giving flesh" to a mutuality of respect.

"But now we can at least say that there is momentum behind the basic idea that Māoritanga is important, not just to me, a Māori, but to everybody. Once we get to that point the path is much smoother.

"Because when I was a kid, that was not the case. Māoritanga was completely disrespected. That's changed."

Though he said there had been "underlying good" work done within the equality space, that needed to be turned into real progress.

"We look to possibility and hope not grievance and anger. That's not going to happen quickly but it is happening I think."