My letter to Te Papa

Many New Zealanders were angry at the news of an attack on the display depicting the English version of the Treaty of Waitangi at Te Papa this week.

The disrespect shown by the vandals to our national museum and the Treaty is utterly unacceptable.

Since the incident, the media have already begun publishing calls for the English version to be removed from Te Papa entirely. This is an outrageous example of historical revisionism and imposing the politics of the present on a document signed in 1840.

So often we are seeing that bullying, aggression, and the 'thugs veto' are successful tactics for certain activists and radicals in New Zealand. They simply cannot be allowed to get their way in this instance.

I have written to CEO of Te Papa Courtney Johnston expressing this view on behalf of Hobson's Pledge. You can read the letter below.

Dear Courtney Johnston,

I write to you on behalf of Hobson’s Pledge and our supporters.

Hobson’s Pledge is named in reference to the words of Lieutenant-Governor William Hobson following each signing of the Treaty of Waitangi on February 6th 1840: “He iwi tahi tatou” which translates to “we are [now] one people”. We believe that the best way forward for New Zealand is to return to the spirit of those words as we became a nation. It is a simple message of unity and equality.

First can I express our dismay at the recent vandalism to the enlarged display of the English version of the Treaty at Te Papa and at the disrespect shown to our national museum. Protest is a part of living in a democratic society, but the manner in which the vandals chose to express themselves was utterly unacceptable.

Secondly, and more substantively, I write to you to implore the executive team at Te Papa not to be swayed into devaluing the English version of the Treaty by the aggressive tactics of vandals. Calls for the removal of the English version entirely have been promoted in the media and by activists since the vandalism.

The fact that there are small discrepancies between the English version of the Treaty and the Māori version does not diminish the importance of either of the versions. Calls to remove the English version entirely are ahistorical, politically-motivated, and must be resisted.

You, of course, will be acutely aware of the risk of imposing the politics and perspectives of the present onto historical events. We must preserve as much as possible the history of the Treaty of Waitangi as it was in 1840. There is value in telling the stories of the evolution of interpretations and associated political tensions, but that is another matter.

The note accompanying Henry Williams’ translation demonstrates that there was an awareness of the difficulties of providing a literal translation at the time and this has never been in contention. However, both the Māori and English texts were ultimately sent to London as the official versions and to devalue and disrespect one of those versions is appallingly inaccurate.

Current tensions and heightened levels of activism cannot be justifications for historical revisionism. I urge you to resist these pressures and continue to display the Treaty as a reflection of its true history, warts and all.


Don Brash

I will be in touch if there are any updates regarding this letter, but rest assured we will be keeping an eye on the situation.

We are in a period of elevated tensions as we navigate the new Government's vision for a more equal New Zealand. Some Māori activists are resisting the changes signalled by the coalition. Allowing a radical minority to decide that the English version of the Treaty no longer has any value and should effectively be deleted will not help tensions in the slightest.

More than ever we at Hobson's Pledge need to be a voice for the reasoned perspectives of the majority who want New Zealand to be a reflection of Hobson's words at Waitangi: "we are now one people".