NEW ZEALAND: New Treaty, New Tradition by Carwyn Jones / The Waitangi Tribunal

New Treaty, New Tradition: Reconciling New Zealand and Maori Law by Maori legal scholar Carywn Jones is a deep look at how Maori law operates as its own legal system, and an argument for legal plurality as part of Indigenous self-determination. Jones argues that the Treaty of Waitangi, the foundational document between Maori and Europeans, should really be treated as two different legal systems making an agreement, like an international treaty. He looks at the reality as well, how Maori law and legal concepts are used today, but only inside the larger structure of New Zealand state law, which naturally means these concepts and laws need to be forced into the shape given for them inside English common law.

Jones also looks at the treaty settlement process through the Waitangi Tribunal, and touches on parallels with the modern treaty process in Canada, and the issues that come through having a Eurocentric process seeking a “final settlement” and moving on. It’s a dense piece of legal scholarship, but interesting, especially in comparison to how land title and treaties are handled in other settler countries like Canada. Oddly, when I took Aboriginal Law in law school, we touched on Australian and American cases, but little from New Zealand – it seems like the tribunal process can avoid the need for blockbuster Supreme Court cases.

For more information on the Waitangi Tribunal and how treaty settlements are made, I’d recommend this documentary from TVNZ – it’s in te reo Maori with English subtitles. It also touches on the weaknesses of the treaty settlement process, and how effective it is in practice.

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