Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Defining Rights of Native Kiwis Can Be a Stretch DRIVING A CANOE?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Defining Rights of Native Kiwis Can Be a Stretch DRIVING A CANOE?

Article excerpt

Popular mythology has it that Kupe was the first Polynesian explorer to sail into the waters of what is now New Zealand.

The theories about his journey from Hawaii are many, though most historians would not accept that the 10th- century navigator's craft looked anything like a five-door hatchback.

But the idea that cars of Maori New Zealanders should today be regarded as traditional Polynesian canoes - and therefore be exempt from parking tickets and registration - is only one of the more colorful suggestions recently made as this nation considers the rights of Kupe's descendants. Elsewhere in New Zealand, members of a Maori tribe have served notice that they will not pay their dog registration fees. They say their pets are toanga, or native treasures, and as such, fall outside municipal bylaws. The issues are small, but the intent is big in a country where native rights have long played second fiddle to the tune of a Anglo-Saxonized culture. Though some claims carry a hint of frivolity - the Maori tribal leader who likens his sedan to an ancient canoe makes his point to reporters with a smile - others are serious. Such was the recent case in the city of Wanganui, where a Maori angler last month petitioned the High Court for the right to fish without a license. He claims the city's river rightfully belongs to his ancestors and not, as is commonly supposed, to the government. The court agreed with him. In a precedent-setting decision, Judge Andrew Becroft ruled that New Zealand Maoris may cast their lines into a nearby stream or river without the mandatory fishing license. That decision set off a tidal wave of reaction. New Zealand, a country which makes much of itself as an ethnically harmonious society, is learning that it takes great political agility to juggle the rights of a modern, Anglo-Saxon country with the guarantees once given to its original Polynesian inhabitants. "There was no need for the white judges to make that ruling," says Frank Haden, a conservative commentator, "other than a sense of mission, an evangelical purpose to alter the course of history by giving {Maoris} special advantage over their fellow whites." Apartheid, Kiwi style? In a letter to the editor of a national newspaper, a reader complained that the decision established New Zealand as "the only apartheid-ridden country in the world and one continuing to increase racist privileges for people that have the same, and many more, rights than all the other races in the country." For the claimants, however, the issue is one of a majority European country facing up to the promises of its founding document, the Treaty of Waitangi, signed in 1840 by Maori tribes and the British government. The treaty, a blueprint for the course of a future "bicultural" society, saw the Maoris ceding political autonomy in exchange for "full and undisturbed" rights to lands, forests, fisheries, and their enigmatically phrased "national treasures. …

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