From Sea to Summit: the Māori and the Crown

New Zealand’s tallest mountain, Aoraki, at sunset (Source: Andrea Schaffer/Creative Commons).

Typically, the stones that have made their way through faraway moraines down to the mouths of glacier-fed rivers never return to their high-altitude origins. But on the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitingi between the British Crown and the indigenous Māori people of New Zealand, Māori and Crown representatives came together to usher two stones from the mouth of the Waitiki river to the base of the Tasman Glacier, New Zealand’s longest glacier. A recent article in Te Kaharoa documents the lifework of an indigenous Māori activist, Anne Sissie Pate Titaha Te Maihāroa Dodds, and her efforts to build peaceful relations between Māori and non-indigenous communities.

The colony of New South Wales was founded by Britain in 1788, and while its territory technically included much of what is now New Zealand, Britain didn’t become involved politically on the islands until the 1820s, in response to reports about European lawlessness. Ultimately, the Treaty of Waitingi was signed in 1840, with the Crown and Māori chiefs coming to a contractual agreement over New Zealand’s relationship to settler colonialism. The treaty has been the source of longstanding dispute because of conflicting political agendas and issues of translation that continue to plague relations between sovereign states and indigenous communities worldwide.

In short, notions of rights over property and land emerge within individual cosmological systems, and when these systems are forced to confront one another, it is nearly impossible for each side to understand the other. The article’s author, Kelli Te Maihāroa, explained in an interview with GlacierHub that for the Māori, Papatūānuku (Earth Mother) is considered sacred and does not belong to human beings, although human beings derive from and return to her. This understanding is the complete inverse of that held by the British, for whom land could be possessed and parceled. Any treaty that offered permanent control over the land and its resources was incoherent in traditional Māori culture.

One of the lakes that feeds into the Waitaki (Source: TimN NZ/Creative Commons).

Though Te Maihāroa Dodds recognizes these disputes, she has chosen to dedicate her life to community-building across boundaries, bringing indigenous and non-indigenous parties together in pursuit of a more equitable future. The article is a life-history of Te Maihāroa Dodds that elucidates the many corners of New Zealand life, indigenous and not, that she has touched. A steadfast promoter of Māori tino rakatirataka (self-determination), she has advocated for environmental awareness in keeping with Māori traditional practices.

On December 31, 1989, Te Maihāroa Dodds and others organized an Ocean to Alps celebration (New Zealand’s mountains are known as the ‘Southern Alps’) to mark the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitingi. To commemorate the event, two stones were chosen from the mouth of the Waitiki river by a Māori tribal chief. According to the author, the chief was a deeply spiritual man, and was probably drawn to the Mauri (life force) of the stones. “As we would say, it was speaking or calling to him,” she stated. The two stones were then transported via boat by a group of Māori and Crown representatives up the river, and ultimately placed at two locations: the Tasman Glacier’s moraine and its visitor center (to commemorate the event).

The Waitaki River as it rolls out to sea (Source: grumpylumixuser/Creative Commons).

For Te Maihāroa Dodds, it runs in the family. She is a direct descendant of Te Maihāroa, a Māori priest who in the late 19th century unified Māori living on New Zealand’s South Island against the influx of Western encroachment. Like her great-grandfather, she has a commitment to the land as it was traditionally understood— not belonging to human beings, but acting as the bearer of mankind.

In an interview with GlacierHub, Te Maihāroa emphasized that solidarity lay at the heart of the event— honoring different histories and celebrating a shared vision for the future. Since the Crown and Māori represent the two partners of the Treaty of Waitangi, both parties saw the event as a celebration of the two peoples. Though not all iwi (Māori tribes) agree about the nature of the treaty, the commemoration was widely supported by both Māori and non-Māori.

According to the author, the journey from sea to summit— from Waitiki river to Aoraki glacier— marked a return of a living object to its source. Similarly, the participants were marking a return to the spirit, if not intent, of the treaty: the funds came from the New Zealand government, while the ceremonial objects were provided by Māori chiefs. “The transportation of the kohatu (stone) from the mouth of the Waitaki River to the Tasman Glacier was about honoring the source from where the kohatu came from and the journey down the river. The return of objects to their natural place of origin is often undertaken by the Māori,” Te Maihāroa stated.

The Tasman Glacier lake (Source: ginny russell/Creative Commons).

The river and the glacier are both sacred ancestors of the Māori, and non-indigenous participants were involved in order to celebrate past agreements and forgive transgressions in the name of mutual progress. “The celebration was a return to the spirit of partnership in which the treaty was signed. Unfortunately, it was broken after only a few years by the Crown. This in essence was another extension of goodwill, generosity of spirit and partnership, an opportunity to reset the relationship again after 150 years. The Waitaha people welcomed first North Island tribes and then colonial settlers,” Te Maihāroa said. “It is encompassed in our extension of ‘manaakitanga‘— caring, hospitality, hosting, looking after visitors,” she added. Through marriages, the visitors have become a part of Māori whakapapa (geneology), and they share a future— one that activists like Te Maihāroa Dodds help to facilitate for the well-being of all New Zealanders.

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