Margaret Kawharu


In the context of running Treaty of Waitangi claims against the Crown1, I argue that the claim process is much more about what it means to be Maori, on ever shifting ground in New Zealand society, than anything else. There are three stages in the claim process once a claim is lodged: presentation of evidence, negotiations around appropriate redress and an agreed settlement. At every stage in the process, claimants are required to identify themselves in terms of their whakapapa (genealogy). Yet the fact that these terms have been determined by the Crown is in itself a result of patterns of interaction shaped by a legal, adversarial settlement process and an iniquitous colonial past. This essay aims to clarify why the claim process is so protracted and what challenges the Maori claimants face, when the very process of being eligible to engage with the Crown forces them to redefine their identity as Maori several times over. In doing so the essay points to the tension for Maori between working with indigenous concepts and values at the same time as engaging with the Crown to settle long-standing grievances. It also addresses some key anthropological questions about identity processes, showing how being claimants reinforces, embraces and strengthens the notion of a Maori identity but at the same time undermines, systematises, and limits being Maori. In this sense, one understands how the Crown, or the state, is an institution ‘that is the ground of both our freedoms and our unfreedoms’ (Scott, 1998, p. 7).


Treaty of Waitangi claim settlements; Maori identity; whakapapa;

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.11157/sites-vol10iss1id231