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The Negotiators: Tales from the front line of the Waitangi Tribunal

Moana Maniapoto turns iwi trauma at the hands of settlers into revealing glimpses of the Waitangi Tribunal at work. 

The processes of the Waitangi Tribunal can be thought of in a number of ways – and one of those ways is as the generator of a thousand stories.

Yet once told, those stories go largely unheard by a wider audience. Moana Maniapoto’s series The Negotiators (Māori TV, Monday, 8.00pm), a modern oral history of Treaty claims, goes some way towards remedying that. This week’s episode covers the claim of the Taranaki iwi, which is inseparable from the story of Parihaka.

The negotiating process requires claimants to make explicit their historical trauma, which has a bearing on recompense.

“If your tribe was massacred, then your redress kind of ends up at that end of the spectrum, or if your land was confiscated,” says Maniapoto.

For Taranaki, an element of that trauma was the rape of women by the Crown soldiers who occupied the Parihaka village. When Taranaki negotiators raised it in talks, they were told there was no record of the rapes. But there was a record. The women of the village had memorialised it in a poi, which was performed for the Crown by their descendants, for the first time putting what happened on the written record. It’s an astonishing moment in the episode.

Jamie Tuuta. Photo/Supplied

Most of tale of the claim is told through Jamie Tuuta, who was only 24 and a recent law graduate when he first got involved in the Treaty process, initially on behalf of his own iwi, Ngāti Mutunga.

“Parihaka was a threat to the state,” he calmly explains. “It was a threat because they could see how powerful leadership could influence and provide confidence for our community. It was a threat because it challenged the Crown’s authority and mandate to govern our lands. It was as simple as that.”

Each claim has its own stories and its own personalities (next week’s final episode features Michael Cullen, who crossed over from government to become a negotiator for Ngāti Tūwharetoa).

But overall, says Maniapoto, “People are driven to do it because they’ve inherited a legacy. They know it’s an incredibly flawed process and they’re conflicted about that. But they’re hoping they’ll be able to get something out of it that justifies their engagement with the Crown. For some, it’s about drawing some people back home, for others about finally getting that apology.”

Although the first season of The Negotiators is drawing to a close, it will remain available on demand on the Māori Television website.

This article was first published in the October 5, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.