Envisioning a Te Tiriti-based constitution

The University welcomed some of the country’s most influential thinkers on Māori rights and constitutional law this week to discuss the development of an inclusive, Te Tiriti-based constitution.

designing our constitution
The University of Auckland’s Margaret Mutu is of Ngāti Kahu, Te Rarawa, Ngāti Whātua and Scottish descent.

“We’ve got to the point now where we all know that we have to undertake constitutional transformation - that is really clear around the country and not just with Māori,” Professor Margaret Mutu said on the first day of the Designing our Constitution conference held at the University of Auckland this week.

The focus of the conference, in memory of the formidable intellectual, lawyer, educator, and fearless advocate for Indigenous rights, Dr Moana Jackson, was on identifying practical steps towards designing an inclusive, Te Tiriti-based constitution for Aotearoa.

The first day featured three keynote speakers, Ani Mikaere (Te Wānanga-o-Raukawa), Veronica Tawhai (Massey) and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Francisco Calí Tzay, as well as several panellists.

Conference moderator and organiser Professor Claire Charters says exciting options for constitutional transformation were discussed, including the values that the constitution should express, the need for entrenched provisions to ensure the protection of Papatūānuku (the land, environment) and how governance might be shared.

“With the amazing speakers and the inspiration they bring, I think the feeling in the room is positive and uplifted. I think people feel the need to rise up against policies and laws that continue to colonise and contradict Te Tiriti o Waitangi.”

Dr Charters says that when thinking about constitutional design, it’s important that tangata whenua (people of the land) are careful not to emulate what already exists in terms of the Westminster system the New Zealand government inherited.

“Now’s the time to come together to build on and consider some new ways to move forward. The conference is about generating ideas around what a constitution should look like practically, such as the types of institutions we might need and the laws we might need to realise Te Tiriti o Waitangi.”

Our allies will be charged with encouraging people to understand that the sky won’t fall if we do things differently, and that we won’t oppress them just because they oppressed us.

Ani Mikaere, Te Wānanga-o-Raukawa

In her opening remarks, Dr Charters asked the more than 450 conference participants to think about how jurisdictional regulation might happen, how governance might be financed and what lessons might be learnt from Indigenous peoples around the world navigating constitutional transformation.

“We have to think about the diversity of our nation and make sure all people in Aotearoa—from our Pacific cousins to our children to our rainbow community—are protected under our constitution based in tikanga Māori.”

Keynote speaker, author, barrister, solicitor, and teacher of Māori law and philosophy at Te Wānanga-o-Raukawa Ani Mikaere referenced a talk given by Moana Jackson and said, “Our relationship with Papatūānuku provides the perfect starting point for any discussion of our rights and our responsibilities as tangata whenua.”

The challenge, said Mikaere, is to grow a set of constitutional tikanga from a foundation of kaupapa underpinned by the relationship Māori have with the land, “this will serve as a mooring point for all who live here”.

She highlighted the need to develop constitutional principles that consider relationships between people, and between people and the natural world, and discussed the importance of reaching an agreement on a set of principles for engagement with those who come to Aotearoa.

“How do we show manaakitanga to those who we welcome here, and what are their obligations to this place, to one another and to us? How do we understand our relationships with other Indigenous peoples, and with colonisers?”

Mikaere went on to speak about the importance of working together with Pākehā allies so they can establish their own work stream that runs alongside the work of tangata whenua.

“Our allies will be charged with encouraging people to understand that the sky won’t fall if we do things differently, and that we won’t oppress them just because they oppressed us. That we’ll all be better off under a constitutional system based on the values underpinning tikanga.”

The conference is a partnership between: Te Kāhui Tika Tangata Human Rights Commission, the National Iwi Chairs Forum and Te Puna Rangahau o Te Wai Ariki | Centre for Indigenous Peoples and the Law, University of Auckland.

Funding support has been provided by J R McKenzie Trust and Te Wānanga o Raukawa.

Media contact

Sophie Boladeras | Media adviser
M: 022 4600 388
E: sophie.boladeras@auckland.ac.nz