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Tangata Tiriti

30 May 2021


A name to like, if you want to like our future

Like it or not, we are in the business of names and labels- segmentation, audiences, target markets. Even if you're not familiar with the works of the first existentialist philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, you might recognise the interpretation of one of his phrases: “If you name me you negate me. By giving me a name, a label, you negate all the other things I could possibly be.” 1 I often think of this interpretation in my work of discovering insights, attempting to lessen the impact of his assertion.

But I recently came across a name, a label, that had the opposite effect on me to Kierkegaard’s assertion. It helped me see what I could possibly be, and it got me thinking. It’s the label ‘tangata tiriti’, and it means ‘people of the treaty’. I came across the term in an article from the New Zealand Herald I serendipitously flicked through, while in a cafe.

The article was titled ‘Why I'm excited about the future of Aotearoa’, written by Māori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer. She goes on to write:

”Tangata tiriti are people who don't argue the existence of Te Tiriti o Waitangi as our founding document. They promote the partnerships it intended, moving away from transactional engagements, preferring lifelong relationships.

They are secure in themselves and know we are equals, one as tangata of the whenua (people of the land) and one as tangata of the tiriti (people of the treaty). Most importantly, they know how our combined whakapapa as tangata whenua and tangata tiriti is the rongoa (remedy) for the future.

I am a first generation New Zealander. My father, Irish. My mother, English. Air New Zealand, their waka. They came for the dairy, stayed for the lifestyle. New Zealand became my mother’s home, and it’s mine too. Tangata tiriti as a label does not negate me, it gives to me a possibility I didn’t know existed. It interrupted my binary thoughts of ‘Pakeha’ and ‘Maori’. It presented a third way.

I am, however, slightly hesitant in writing this. How could I not know of this, already? Will I be displaying an insulting level of ignorance in writing this? I could be criticised on both points, but I hope that when I re-read this in a year’s time, I will recognise this as the start of a journey.

We made the decision for Seven to become B-Corp certified to gain recognition for doing the right thing. B-Corp is another journey, with an American-centric purpose-driven performance standards system. It is designed to create benefits for all stakeholders, not just shareholders. At Seven, we view ourselves as ‘People of the Treaty’, but we can’t find a simple guide to apply the principles of the Treaty to our business. Our compliance quest for good, well, it just doesn’t feel as good as it could be.

So we prepared a thought-piece of our experience, with a potential solution, and gave a presentation to a department of the government. They were intrigued. They liked what we were trying to do. They see a future for this idea, an idea they described as new.

I had the same feeling of hesitation when preparing that presentation I have in writing this. So, why do I feel I can write about this? Because I am tangata tiriti, and I see the possibility.

Possibility made clear to me by Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, in her description of the peace available to those who see themselves as tangata tiriti:

“They want to make the burden light, hold up their side of the promise, clean up their own mess. They don't want to lead our space, they want to own their own, removing barriers of discrimination and clear the way to let us through, so we can live united in peace.”

It’s a name I like, and a journey I -albeit hesitantly- embark upon.

David Bowles