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  • Our Words Matter

Celebrating wrong-doers continues the problems

Contributed by Sue McCabe, Co-founder of the Community Comms Collective, Co-founder of The Good Registry, Chief Executive of Philanthropy New Zealand.

The high profile way we honour Aotearoa’s early settlers who did harm, and how that perpetuates wrongs, is one of my take-outs from an Understanding Te Tiriti o Waitangi course.

In Wellington, we have Wakefield Street, Wakefield Hospital, Wakefield Park. These are named after Edward Gibbon Wakefield. In his 30s, he abducted and married a 15-year-old girl in order to bribe her father.

At the time, the British Government were reluctant to colonise New Zealand (due to the cost and the distance — to oversimplify it). The Government’s Colonial Office rejected Wakefield’s offer — made fresh out of prison — to colonise New Zealand. But Wakefield persisted using different means. He established the New Zealand Company with the backing of people who wanted to make money, bringing ships to New Zealand full of settlers who bought land.

Another take-out was having the differences between the English and te reo Māori version of te tiriti explained. For example, the English version said Māori cede their sovereignty to the Queen, while the te reo Māori version said Māori keep their sovereignty.

It’s since between recognised that it is the te reo Māori version that’s the right account, being the one discussed and signed. For example, in 2014 the Waitangi Tribunal said the intention was for the British to have sovereignty over its own subjects — not Māori.

Once again, this is my simple summary of a complex topic, leaving out important context around the treaty’s development, process and signing. In any case, both versions of the treaty were bulldozed by the process of colonisation that then ensued.

Course facilitator Jen Margaret from Groundwork ( clearly presented what colonisation is and its impacts. Colonisation is a non-consensual process where one nation exerts power and control over another nature. In action, it’s appropriating a place for one’s own use. Among the implications are a breach of human rights; a loss of cultural, economic and political power; and intergenerational trauma.

At times the stories we’ve been fed over the years were apparent in the group conversation (and sometimes just in my head). One course participant insisted there were benefits of colonisation for Māori, like increased trade opportunities. It was pointed out that Māori were trading prior to colonisation, and that colonisation reduced their ability to trade (amongst many other things). The truth can be hard to hear, as it can conflict with our programming at a conscious and subconscious level. I received untrue myths that were the prevailing discourse of history when growing up. I am needing to have an open mind and unlearn these, and it can be uncomfortable.

Jen, a Pākeha, gave a good example of how colonisation privileges. Her great-grandfather was a supporter of Māori political representation — unusual at the time. He also received land for winning a running race, at a time when Māori were losing their land. This land gave the family power that has benefitted them intergenerationally, compared to those who lost land.

We then went through an exercise to vision what a society built on Te Tiriti o Waitangi looks like. We were asked to be realistic, and still everyone came up with a society in which there is wider wellbeing than what we have now. Given where we are at — it’s challenging to think about adequate redress. Settlements are giving back a tiny fraction of what was taken.

We then had time to reflect on what action we can take as individuals in our personal capacity, as well as in our workplaces. Writing this blog was one of my actions, to encourage others to go on an Understanding Te Tiriti o Waitangi course. If you haven’t done one, I highly recommend it. Or if you’re like me, and you did one about 15 years ago, sign up to another. The content may have changed.


I did the course as a New Zealander in my personal capacity. Thanks to my friend Gail Marshall for being my learning buddy on the course. It was a great way to spend a Saturday.

Here’s a link to an essay from Jen considering the Treaty from a Pākeha perspective:

Here’s some questions and answers and also links to more useful resources and reading:


This article has been republished with permission from Sue McCabe:

Sue is Chief Executive of Philanthropy New Zealand and the former Chief Executive of the National Council of Women. She also is a co-founder and trustee of not-for-profit the Community Comms Collective and co-founder and director of social enterprise The Good Registry.



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