To: Cheryl de la Rey
Subject: Your press statement announcing the University's Office of Treaty Partnership
Dear Dr de la Rey,
As a graduate of the University of Canterbury, I was dismayed - indeed, horrified would not be too strong a word - to read your press statement announcing the University's new Office of Treaty Partnership.
To begin with, the first two pages of the statement were in the Maori language - a language understood by only a tiny fraction of New Zealand's population, and an even tinier fraction of the global population. For a university which aspires to be taken seriously not just in New Zealand but internationally, having the first two pages of your press statement in the Maori language is not likely to do the university's reputation any good at all. Even in the English language part of your statement, there are a great many Maori words, no doubt intended to make the university appear modern and progressive but proving to a great many others - especially international observers - that it is simply intent on gaining the approval of a tiny minority of New Zealanders.
Your statement actually talks about "supporting the use of te reo and Tikanga Maori" as somehow "consistent with Te Tiriti o Waitangi and its principles". But as you are no doubt aware, the Maori language is spoken by only a small minority of Maori New Zealanders, and by virtually nobody else. While I personally have always supported using taxpayers' funds to support the teaching of the Maori language to those who wish to learn it, and similarly supported taxpayers' funds being used to support Maori language radio and television, you will know I am sure that an ability to speak the Maori language is of no value in gaining employment anywhere except perhaps in woke university departments. By contrast, an ability to read and write in English is essential for employment in New Zealand, and also provides employment opportunities in a great many countries around the world.
You refer to the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. I know you have a distinguished reputation in South Africa, but I wonder how much you know about Te Tiriti, and the context in which it was signed. It was an extremely short and straightforward document, involving Maori chiefs surrendering such sovereignty as they possessed; being guaranteed in return the full ownership and control of their property; and being guaranteed also "the rights and privileges of British subjects" - an extraordinarily enlightened document for its time. As you will know, nothing like it happened anywhere else where European colonisers arrived.
But the so-called "principles of the Treaty" are a very recent invention - and a dangerous one because there is absolutely no consensus on what those principles might be.
What we do know is that when one group of citizens is given political rights, or a status, which others do not have, simply by virtue of who some of their ancestors were, it does not end well.
I had the privilege of meeting Te Maire Tau some 15 years ago and was greatly impressed with his knowledge and his vision. I still recall his telling me that in years to come, an educated New Zealander would be familiar with the writing of the Biblical scholars, of the Greek philosophers, of Shakespeare, of Apirana Ngata and of Confucius. That's a vision that I share, but I fear it will not be realised by elevating one group of New Zealanders above other New Zealanders, or pretending that a one-page document signed nearly two centuries ago obliges the University of Canterbury to pretend that it is in partnership with a local Maori tribe.