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Being Tangata Tiriti

Updated: Nov 2, 2022

Stop trying to be Māori, I don’t need you to be Māori – I’ve got that covered. I need you to be a good treaty partner. - Tina Ngata's Aunt

I first heard about Tangata Tiriti from late Dr. Ranginui Walker, at a Treaty of Waitangi related event in 2014. In response to a question from the audience, Dr Walker said (I paraphrase) 'There are only two kinds of people in Aotearoa New Zealand. Tangata Whenua - People of the Land, and Tangata Tiriti - People of the Treaty. The Treaty of Waitangi is what gives the latter group the right to be here.'

My wife and I came to Aotearoa New Zealand on our big adventure, and had fallen in love with this country. At that time, we were wanting to stay on, but I was very, very conflicted. I was struggling with my position as a migrant to the lands of a colonised people. As a Mizo person, colonised first by the UK and then by modern India, growing up in the North East region that has for many years (and by many tribal groups) sought independence...I have some slight sense of what it feels like for Māori.

Dr Walker's comment brought me to tears. Here was a rightful way for me to live on these lands, to let my toes sink in and put down roots. For the first time, I felt like I **belonged** here. Though that belonging came with a warning - I have responsibilities too. As Lillian Hanly recently said in a Spinoff article -

Tangata Tiriti is about active citizenship...whereas Pākehā is a passive identity. - Lillian Hanly

Being Tangata Tiriti means I need to be a good Treaty partner to Māori. It means I need to understand, to accept, on my personal self, the weight of history - that my side of the Treaty broke the Treaty. That while it isn't my fault, it is my responsibility to see that justice is restored.

I have, since, been on a bumpy, mistake-ridden, exhilirating, humbling, insightful journey of what it means to be Tangata Tiriti. What does it mean to be an ally to the people of these lands and waters? What does it mean to use the very little power and influence I have to restore justice?

Tina Ngata has published a [helpful starter for reflection and action. While I can't say I have always been a good treaty partner...that is certainly who I hope to be.

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