The Treaty of Waitangi
At first glance it may seem difficult to see any connection between refugee resettlement and the Treaty of Waitangi. How can a Treaty, signed more than 160 years ago, be relevant to refugees beginning a new life in New Zealand today? Let's take a closer look.
Those of us who have migrated to another country will know just how much thought and planning goes into such a huge decision. We want to know as much about our new country as possible.
Before boarding that plane or ship, we will have checked out the job opportunities, property prices, education opportunities, health services and everything else we can think of. We will have read about the history and culture of our new homeland and probably studied its languages.
Refugees, however, are not voluntary migrants. They do not choose to leave their homeland - instead, they are the innocent victims of persecution - forced to flee from their country because of their race, religion or beliefs. Often, they know little or nothing about their country of final destination.
Refugees have always suffered multiple losses. They have frequently been forced to leave behind language, traditions, family, friends and culture. Around the world, many indigenous peoples have felt a similar sense of separation from their past - a loss of ownership, or stewardship of the lands over which they were once guardians.
There is, therefore, the possibility of a natural affinity and a deep understanding between refugees and indigenous peoples. However, this potential may never be realised unless each group is aware of the other's experiences and history.
In Aotearoa-New Zealand, the Treaty of Waitangi has enormous importance because it is the document that outlines the agreements, made on 6 February 1840, between the Maori people and the British Crown. It is the founding document that forms the basis of the relationship between the tangata whenua (People of the land) and the Pakeha, (all those of non-Maori descent who were to migrate and settle here at a later time).
As New Zealand's national refugee resettlement agency, New Zealand Red Cross Refugee Services is committed to the promotion of social harmony, mutual respect and cultural understanding among the increasingly multi-cultural population of Aotearoa.
We acknowledge the importance of the Treaty of Waitangi and we encourage our staff, volunteers and refugee clients to learn about this document and respect the principles of partnership it established so long ago.