May 16, 2021

Maori News & Indigenous Views

So what does the UN Declaration mean for New Zealand

4 min read reported yesterday on what the UN DRIP was, some of the background and some of the sticking points (i.e. ownership, vetoing powers, etc.). However, we’ve been receiving massive amounts of email asking us what this all means for Aotearoa we thought we’d follow up.

It is therefore important to point out that the Declaration has set out standards and principals by which the State (i.e. the NZ govt) should engage with indigenous communities and acknowledges the right for indigenous peoples to manage their own affairs via their own institutions and engage with the State in a way which reflects their own indigenous structures (as long as these structures are democratic and transparent). asked Aroha Te Pareake Mead, Senior Lecturer in Maori Business, Treaty of Waitangi, Maori Resource Management and Indigenous Cultural & Intellectual Property issues at Victoria University and Chair of the Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy, what she felt mainstream media was missing and she had this to say;

Endorsing the DRIP was something NZ simply had to do, not just in terms of demonstrating good faith to Maori, but also in terms of showing to the 450 million indigenous peoples of the world that NZ acknowledges their human rights. Hopefully this action will finally bring to an end the ignorance that some people hold on to,by refusing to acknowledge that Maori are indigenous peoples, and as such have RIGHTS in both national and international laws.

There was also an interesting interview on Radio NZ’s 9-Noon programme with Catherine Ryan. She spoke with Sir Edward Taihakurei Durie, former Waitangi Tribunal chairman and High Court judge about the implications of NZ signing the UN DRIP. Among many important points he reminded us that this document is about engagement between the State and Indigenous communities and its interpretation will influence how it is used:

EddieDurieCProfessor Durie suggested that if you interpret these issues from a negative perspective of all the things that can go wrong, you’ll find a lot of issues, however, if you interpret the Declaration in terms of how we can most place indigenous peoples in a position to take responsibility for their own affiars, then you get a wholly different perspective. Durie reiterated the fact that;

it’s not a legally binding documents so there is all the scope in the world to work though and find the real sentiment behind the Declaration and not to take a black-letter law and legalistic approach, it’s is NOT a legally binding document it is an aspirational document.

So what could it mean for Aoteaora, it will have real and direct influence in the sense that it provides a basis for interaction, communication and engagement.

A key point which emerged was how often people put more weight on legal documents when what we find is that documents which create a basis for values, i.e. how to treat one another are far more influential and long standing.

Durie says in essence:

It’s not a legally binding document, it’s an aspirational document.

It provides a very good way of looking at the world and how we relate. It’s having the guidance that is extremely important. We tend to think that the only things that count in the world are legal documents, rules and regulations that prescribe for us how to behave. That’s not in fact how things are, the greatest sanction in the world is having certain values and standards by which we conduct our own life. So, the thing that has had the probably the greatest effect upon the Western world over the last 2000 years, has been, say the Bible.

It set out a moral cobra, it’s entirely aspirational, it had huge influence over how people related one to another, it set impossible standards, it said you all have to love one another… so while there are all sorts of things that prevent people from achieving those objectives but it’s setting out those sorts of things which we should aim for. And that is what this Declaration does, that is its great strength, it is not legally binding, it’s not going to tie us up but it gives us an idea of the sorts of things we should be aiming for.

One word, “brilliant”!

Only yesterday the US signalled their decision to revisit their position with Ambassador Susan Rice, U.S. Permanent Representativeto the United Nations saying “President Obama is deeply committed to strengthening and building on government-to-government relationships among the United States and our tribal governments“. This leaves only Canada left to sign after Australia changed stance last year and signed the Declaration.

1 thought on “So what does the UN Declaration mean for New Zealand


    Maori lawyer Moana Jackson says New Zealand's sleight of hand over the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has been noticed by indigenous people overseas.

    Sheryl Lightfoot, an influential Native American academic, has complained that New Zealand's use of the terms "aspirational" and "non-binding" represents a lack of commitment, and the president of British Columbia's union of Indian chiefs, Stewart Phillip, says limited support of the declaration threatens its integrity.

    Mr Jackson says Prime Minister John Key's claim that the declaration would have no effect on what New Zealand does has upset people who fought for it over 20 years.

    “They ignore the fact that it is an international human rights document, that human rights are a minimums set of standards are supposed to aspire to, so to sign it and say it makes no difference is really just a nonsense,” Mr Jackson says.

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