In the two weeks leading up to Waitangi two public forums were held at Te Papa on Te Tiriti o Waitangi and constitutional change. They were excellent contributions to the national conversation, the first being lawyers Moana Jackson (Ngati Kahungungu and Ngati Porou) and Matthew Palmer. Both speakers had a deep understanding of the issues and some fresh ideas about the relationship between Te Tiriti and a possible written constitution. I was particularly struck by Moana’s description of the work of the Matike Mai, the Independent Working Group on Constitutional Transformation” which is a flaxroots approach involving hapu throughout the country.
Moana reminded us that tangata whenua and citizens are capable of imagining and designing a Te Tiriti based conversation for a harmonious and just future. He identified the two big questions we need to embrace – the nature of power and the site of power for governance.
The next week I attended the youth forum on this topic, chaired by Kim Hill. Four young people discussed their vision around constitutional change. They were all articulate, respectful and hopeful that we can develop a constitutional approach with Te Tiriti at the heart. Meanwhile in the audience some angry Pakeha men from the John Ansell campaign to engender contempt for Te Tiriti attempted to heckle and were dealt to with surgical precision by the indomitable Kim.
Not everyone wanted a written constitution but all these young people displayed an understanding of our history and a willingness to engage deeply which was very positive. Best of all, they recognised their own privilege in being comfortable with what remains an elite discussion. If the Government constitutional working party is to come up with anything useful they should study the alternative approach led by Matike Mai and listen to these young people on the issue of who gets to participate.
As a Tangata Tiriti spokesperson for the Greens I am planning to travel to communities this year to help stimulate this conversation at the grassroots. Feel free to invite me to your region, its great to hear from the lawyers but we need to get other voices heard as well.