He iwi tahi tatou - we are one people, yeah, yeah

Pou tangata
Pou tangata inside Whare Runanga of Tiriti o Waitangi National Marae

Tim Jackson, the Waitangi National Trust Board manager, accompanied me through the entrance foyer to New Zealand's most potent ground. Around 320 people come through these doors daily, and a dozen or so were already filing through to catch the audio-visual.

We halted beside the trust's souvenir stand.

"About 73% of that number are foreign visitors," said Jackson, and gestured at the stand, stocked, amongst the paua shell and greenstone items, with wooden patu and carved gods, "and they love wooden objects."

"Oh?" I said.

"Particularly the Germans."

"Ah," I said.

"That's right," said Jackson. "The Germans will pay $1,200 or $1,500 for a top quality wooden souvenir, and they'll pay that without haggling at all."

I went and watched the audio-visual. The commentary looked at history through Maori eyes. The arrival of a voyaging people, and for 800 years, on these the largest islands of their migration, the most intense development of Polynesian life on earth, in peace, and war, and then -

"When the white goblins came in their great canoes, it changed our lives forever. At first the strangers were few and their visits like a dream . . . "

The numbers compounded, so did the muskets, and bloody tribal raids where sometimes thousands, as a chilling Maori euphemism has it, were put to sleep. Living or trading amongst all that were the whalers, the sealers, the missionaries, the timber and flax merchants, the British settlers. In 1835, James Busby, Britain's first representative in New Zealand, organised the Northland chiefs into the 1835 declaration of New Zealand independence to stop designs on the country by various grandees. By then the so-called pakeha were up to 2000.

Commerce was booming, casual land sales ballooning, fights exploding, and in England the so-called New Zealand Company was hyping the New Zealand destination, and preparing large-scale settlement.

Britain took the next step. It annexed New Zealand, then sought a voluntary handover of sovereignty. Lieutenant-Governor William Hobson sailed into the Bay of Islands on January 30, 1840, and in combination with James Busby, drafted a treaty that was laid before the Northland chiefs, and other chiefs from as far down as Hauraki, on February 5 1840.

In its simple three articles, the chiefs would cede sovereignty to the British Crown, but in return be guaranteed their customary land, forests and fisheries, except in the case of willing sale. There would be just one buyer - the Crown. New Zealand would come under British protection, and all Maori be guaranteed the rights and privileges of British citizens.

Culture clash. The audio-visual was frank about Maori disagreement: chiefs like Rewa told Hobson to go back - those who signed, said Rewa, would be "reduced to the condition of slaves and compelled to break stones on the roads."

The audio-visual didn't say so, but it was a fairly accurate prophecy for what lay ahead. The pro-treaty chiefs prevailed. On February 6, Hobson gathered 46 signatures, saying to each chief: He iwi tahi tatou - now we are one people. Over the next few months British officials and missionaries gathered a further 466 signatures on facsimiles from around the country, and Britain declared sovereignty over New Zealand in October 1840.

I wandered out onto an aerial walkway that hung level with the punga canopy, went down the stairs, saw the great waka, the whare runanga, and Busby's house. It is true that a nation's first events, like childhood, mark it forever, It is true that the treaty was a working document for a time, and then it was not. It is true that as settler numbers increased, the Crown and its agencies conspired later to take land from Maori and the missionaries, assisted by parliamentary law, broke up Maori tradition. It is true the confiscations that followed war in the 1860s took huge land acreages. It is true that any attempt by Maori to protest at breaches of the treaty agreement were rendered useless in law by an 1877 court decision that declared the treaty a "simple nullity".

But it is also true that the treaty was, by degrees, restored.

In 1932, a British Governor General, Charles Bledisloe, rescued this land from private subdivision and gifted it to the nation. In 1975, the country's most astute Maori politician, Matiu Rata, steered through the New Zealand parliament, an act establishing the Waitangi Tribunal. It was empowered only to deal with Maori land grievances occurring from that date, but in 1985 that mandate was extended to investigate Maori claims going back to 1840.

That, together with a land march on Parliament, action by the Maori Council and activist groups, was the revolution. The Tribunal had only the power of recommendation, but its reports were startlingly clear, and forced the Crown to negotiate with the tribes, and to enshrine the treaty. The Labour Government 1984-90 dismantled state power, and spun off government enterprises into commercial State Owned Enterprises before selling many to private enterprise, but in the legislation that made such process legal it wrote in treaty principles, and the courts began to turn those principles into case law victories for Maori.

I walked out of the Whare Runanga, and the Spirit of Adventure was out in the blue bay, its tall masts and rigging suggesting past things. The Treaty Ground, mown and spacious, fell away to its own rounded horizon like some small grassy planet. A tall flag-staff marked the place of the treaty signing, and a Maori workman was right there, binding a cleat onto one of the flagstaff's steel guy ropes.

Yogi Takimoana

Yogi Takimoana was Ngapuhi. His family had scattered south, but he'd been back in the tribal area for 15 years.

He was preparing for the treaty commemoration on February 6. Binding the cleat, but if you wanted his personal thoughts on the thing, he wanted less speeches at the commemoration and more performance.

"Yeah, a full-on Maori day, for our people. Like 1990, that was more or less the coming of age. It was good time Maori performance. We put 75,000 seats up here and they were all full. We had the Mungies sitting down with Black Power laughing and just getting on with life - all the bros, for why? It was Maori pride.

"The pride is coming back. That negative look, it doesn't happen any more. I mean pakeha, but Maori too. Oh it used to be full on man, and that's why that pub down there was called the flying jug. When I first came back it used to be like, don't look sideways - I'll come over there and whack you on the nose. Now it's more - Gidday Kiwi - it's that hello feeling.

"How good it is now that you never see Maori kids outside a pub now - have you noticed that in your travels? The kids hanging out the window of the cars eating chippies and calling for mum. You don't see it.

"There's less yelling, less swearing, less violence."

"The treaty? I'm pleased I'm a kiwi, and not an aborigine, and not an Indian. Why? Because their treaty has been around a lot longer than 158 years, but this treaty hasn't run away. And the pakeha - their vision of life is a lot more wider than it was.

We're all one, we're all kiwis, we all live together."

I walked on, across Waitangi Bridge. That phrase of all being one people. The audio-visual had closed with the same thing. Personally I don't believe it. In 1980 I was in a pakeha contingent, including Gary McCormick and Sam Hunt, to represent New Zealand at the South Pacific Festival of the Arts in Papua New Guinea. All the pakeha, for political reasons, had been sent to Coventry by the Maori performance groups selected for the same festival.

It was an unhappy experience, and I'd written a newspaper piece asserting the rights of pakeha in a South Pacific festival. Pat Hohepa, then leader of the radical group Ahi Kaa, wrote back to the editor saying: "Unless Mr Chapple is a member of the patupaiarehe, the red-haired, watery-eyed, pale-skinned fairies said to inhabit the forested uplands, he is not part of the indigenous people of this country."

I dwell too long on all of this - perhaps. But Te Araroa's idea from the outset was that the trail would bring to view not just the landscapes, but the history, and the people. We proposed that the walker on the trail might be manuhiri, or guest, within a tribal area, and if the walker was lucky, fetch up a night or two at a marae. It is a different culture. Its karanga and powhiri can stir you with a spirit that is not easily found elsewhere in this country, and I think its power arises from the community of the tribe, and because the forms are old, and often conducted by the old, and full of the secrets and dreads that are locked within the land.

Te Araroa has had some Maori support, and it has required a generosity and confidence beyond the grievances.

Yet no-one walking in Northland and seeing the shacks, the black economy of dope and subsistence hunting, the sliding, desperately driven cars on the road, can say that the rage has died, or the opportunities yet come.

I walked along the grass esplanade towards Paihia. To my right was the Tiriti o Waitangi Marae. It was on this ground that the chiefs first met and argued before going on across the river to sign the treaty. It's on this ground, since 1875, that Maori have met on the anniversary to discuss Pakeha infractions of the treaty. There is a line of tall Maori carvings stuck in the ground here that are more thin, more angry, than anything up on the treaty ground, where the carvers were - I'm guessing - funded by centennial celebrations money. Narrow-shouldered, and with swooping arms, this other line of squiggles seem to have walked out of an earlier time, a far scarier place.

To the left of the esplanade, New Zealand was at play. The cars were drawn up, iridescent and glinting, the sunbathers were oiled and lying prone on the beach. Left or right, I belonged to neither group. I pushed my sunnies firmly back onto the bridge of my nose and walked on.