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Tino rangatiratanga is universal

(By Te Ururoa Flavell) Tino Rangatiratanga – two words we sing about; we wear proudly on our T-shirts; we fly flags out of car windows and in some enlightened communities from sites of significance to the local people. But for some the words are synonymous with conflict and fear – the hallmarks of hikoi activists.

I do not want to suggest that we should shy away from protest and challenge. Not at all. We must be a nation brave enough to understand injustices and strong enough to talk through the hurt and together create enduring solutions.
But I wish also that there was the opportunity for a unifying conversation – a dialogue about what self-determination means – and how that relates to Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

I have always loved the concept of rangatiratanga – being proud of our identity and our culture. Being secure in the very essence of who we are. What could be wrong with that?

As indigenous people, self-determination is a precious thing – the ability to choose our own future and work for the good of our people is something that M?ori have fought for and lived by for hundreds of years.

While the opportunity for sharing indigenous concepts in New Zealand continues, it is also going on in Japan. For example, the Ainu people – the indigenous people of Japan – are part of a push towards self-determination that is being placed in front of the Japanese mainstream psyche.

Early last year I travelled to Hokkaido for the official launch of the Ainu Party. It was an honour to be with the tangata whenua on their own land at that historic time – their bold spirit and fierce determination to ensure the rights of indigenous people and enlightenment of greater Japan was evident.

The journey of the Ainu Party reflects many of the hurdles and achievements experienced by the Maori Party after its inception. As our indigenous counterparts across the Pacific, we are now committed to helping this movement grow.
A delegation of Ainu people is currently in New Zealand on an exchange programme organised by AMO (the Advancement of Maori Opportunity group).

Their programme for the visit is based around learning how indigeneity thrives here – through genealogy, the language, schools, arts, customs and economic development. Most importantly, they have come to study how Maori express their tino rangatiratanga – our self-determination and how we express ourselves and our right to be Maori.

I was privileged to lead the delegation on to Ratana P? recently for the 140th anniversary of the birth of Maori prophet Wiremu Potiki Ratana. The Ainu have a historical relationship with the Ratana movement – R?tana was in Japan when he met an Ainu clergyman by the name of Bishop Yuji Nakata. Accounts tell us that it was Bishop Nakata who opened the historic temple at Ratana.

Since going on to R?tana, the Ainu delegation has experienced two of our unique indigenous institutions (Te Wananga o Raukawa and Te W?nanga o Aotearoa), stayed at Parihaka, been hosted at Taupo, spent time in the ngahere at Pohara and then travelled up to Waitangi where they even participated in the thrills of waka ama.

In other words they have been fully immersed in a pressure-cooker case-study of indigeneity in Aotearoa!
An integral part of their journey was understanding how our aspirations towards self-determination are inextricably tied to the past – the foundations laid by the Treaty of Waitangi and the imperfect way in which it has been applied over the last 173 years.

While some will suggest the difficulty of interpretation has come about because there are two versions of the Treaty, English and M?ori, I do not accept that there should be any cause for confusion. International law states it is the Treaty written in the language of the indigenous people that takes precedence – this is a supposed safeguard against misinterpretation. Yet successive governments in New Zealand ignored international mandates and in particular compromised the journey towards rangatiratanga by instead focusing on the political will of respective governments – kawanatanga. The contrast in views on the kawanatanga-rangatiratanga relationship has in itself been the major defining feature of our journey since 1840.

Tangata whenua know that we have made many gains, but there is still a long way to go. For the indigenous people of Japan, the modern journey is just starting out. For us both, the key lies in effective and respectful conversations which allow all peoples to learn and grow.

Te Ururoa Flavell is the Maori Party Whip and MP for Waiariki.

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