He Puapua and the government’s opposition to it
22 December, 2023
Interview by Nicholas Lindstrom, adapted by Sofia Roger Williams
Professor at the University of Auckland Faculty of Law, Professor Claire Charters (Ngāti Whakaue, Tūwharetoa, Ngāpuhi, Tainui), says she is not sure the National-led coalition government’s plan to terminate all work on He Puapua is doing anything.
In 2011, the National government signed New Zealand up to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
The UNDRIP outlines countries' obligation to uphold indigenous peoples’ rights to self-determination, maintaining culture, language, identity, and protect and manage indigenous groups’ affairs.
In 2019, under the Labour-led government, a panel of experts, the Declaration Working Group (DWG), was tasked with providing advice on how to realise the declaration in Aotearoa.
The resulting report, He Puapua, highlighted five areas for the government to implement and improve on, including Māori rights to self-determination, participation in kāwanatanga and co-governance, rights to territories, lands, and resources, as well as maintaining culture, Te Reo Māori, and implementing equality and equity.
The report’s objectives were intended to be achieved by 2040, 200 years after the signing of Te Tiriti.
However, He Puapua was not made legally binding and New Zealand’s international obligations to the UNDRIP have no legal effect on domestic law.
As a part of the coalition negotiations with ACT and NZ First, the new National-led government has agreed to effectuate NZ First's policy to stop all work on He Puapua as a part of its initial 100-day plan.
University of Auckland Professor of Law and co-author of He Puapua, Professor Claire Charters (Ngāti Whakaue, Tūwharetoa, Ngāpuhi, Tainui), told 95bFM’s The Wire that He Puapua was about providing options to achieve unity and meet New Zealand's obligations under international human rights law.
“In my mind, where you’ve got a colonial state – a postcolonial state – where indigenous people experience the harms and oppression of colonisation, and you’ve got inequality to the extent that we have in Aotearoa New Zealand, you really need to address these things.”
Despite having no legislative effect, Charters says there is some existing legislation that is consistent with He Puapua.
“Even while not under the auspices of He Puapua… the [Tūhoe Claims Settlement Act 2014] recognised Ngāi Tuhoe’s interests in managing Urewera.”
“But nothing in He Puapua itself became policy or was legislatively incorporated in any way.”
While the National-led coalition government has agreed to stop work on He Puapua, Charters says work already ceased well over a year ago.
After He Puapua was delivered to ministers, the previous government’s Māori Development Minister, Willie Jackson, was tasked with implementing He Puapua in a response to the UNDRIP. But Jackson stopped work on He Puapua before former Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, resigned from office.
In a recent Waatea News report, Jackson said He Puapua was already dead.
“There is no more He Puapua and for them to say we will not be legally bound by the indigenous declaration, well we already knew that too, because we weren’t,” he told Waatea News.
Charters believes the government is using He Puapua as a way of “fudging a decision not to realise New Zealand’s international human rights obligations”.
“I think He Puapua has been used as a euphemism for a strategy to stop work on Māori co-governance.”
“The decision is more about not doing any more work on trying to realise the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”
Charters rejects the government’s claims that policies to recognise indigenous people’s interests are “separatist”.
“It’s difficult to achieve unity when segments of your society, particularly indigenous peoples, colonised peoples, are at the bottom of every socio-economic indicia as a result of this history of colonisation.”
“It’s about trying to ensure there can be equality and therefore unity and not about division at all.”
Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ on Air.