In which John Ansell adopts the “Māori were not here first” argument for Treatygate

I haven’t said much recently about John Ansell, because his “Treatygate” blog has mostly been an accounting of his rabble-rousing attempts around the country.

However, this post by Ansell, entitled Kupe’s descendant confirms other races were here first needs addressing. I mean, the name somewhat gives the game away: has Ansell finally succumbed to some version of the Celtic New Zealand thesis?

Ansell’s post is a partial reprint of a Franklin eLocal article, which itself is part of their series of pieces which claim there is a grand conspiracy at work in Aotearoa me Te Wai Pounamu (New Zealand) to hide the real history of human settlement here. The Franklin eLocal recently interviewed David Rankin, a problematic figure in Māori politics generally and Ngāpuhi specifically1, to get his view on claims of Māori indigeneity. Rankin had this to say:

Let me just start off and say this, Maori are not the indigenous people of Aotearoa New Zealand. There were many other races already living here long before Kupe arrived. I am his direct descendant and I know from our oral history passed down 44 generations.

I believe this needs to be investigated further because every Maori community talks about Waitaha, Turehu and Patupaiarehe. This goes hand-in-hand with the other research.

So, what to make of this? Well, not much really. Māori oral history quite freely records that when the Māori arrived, there were people already living here. However, if you delve into these stories you’ll discover that said people were the ancestors of the Māori. The pre-Māori people in most of these stories were the people who first arrived here and then sent some of their people back to tell everyone else to hurry on over. For example, my favourite volcanic cone of the Waitemata, Maungaika, gets its name from the fact that when it was “discovered” by one of the migrant waka, the navigator’s grandfather, Uika, was already living there, having previously discovered it, settled it and then sent his sons back to the home islands to fetch more people.

It is, then, important to make sure we’re not confusing stories about the people who were here before the arrival of the Māori (a cultural group which settled these islands), the pre-Māori (the ancestors of the Māori who discovered Aotearoa me Te Wai Pounamu) and talk of the Turehu and Patupaiarehe (who are fey, or fairy folk).

Still, the real pearl of Ansell’s piece comes from the comments, where Ansell claims:

The UN know Maori and others aren’t indigenous, so they simply change the meaning of the word to: “The good brown people who got to the country (a bit) before the bad white people”.

Large scale UN conspiracy theory much? Ansell is pretty much a prescriptivist about language, in that he holds to a thesis about there being set definitions for words which are to be taken as inviolate (as evidenced by his claims about the definition of “taonga”, for example). However, I don’t think he gets the irony here that whilst he disagrees with claims of Māori indigeneity, he is doing so by perverting what the word “indigenous” actually means. Ansell doesn’t like term “indigenous” because he holds to a radical and unorthodox definition of the word.

None of which matters anyway. The Treaty of Waitangi is not strictly a treaty between the indigenous people of this place and the British Crown (although it is by inference). It is, rather, a treaty between Māori and the British Crown; even if it turns out that Māori weren’t the indigenous people of this place, it wouldn’t have any bearing on the rights and obligations bestowed by the Treaty because the Treaty isn’t about indigeneity.

Notes

  1. David Rankin is not an ariki of Ngāpuhi and is, basically, a self-professed “elder” of his tribe; he does not speak for Ngāpuhi, no matter how often people in the media claim he does.

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