Dr Giselle Byrnes, Maorification, Treaty of Waitangi Research Unit, Victoria University, Waitangi Tribunal

Vic historian damns Waitangi Tribunal bias


Dr John Robinson is far from the only academic to voice alarm at the Treaty brownwashing scam. 

This from the Herald archives about historian Dr Giselle Byrnes’ experience with the Waitangi Tribunal.

(Note: the paragraphs below are cherry-picked for easy digestion, not all consecutive.)

The tribunal – one of New Zealand’s more controversial institutions – has become a nursery for the rewriting of New Zealand’s history.

It seems a laudable enterprise. But questions are emerging about the academic validity of the history the tribunal is producing.

In a new book, The Waitangi Tribunal and New Zealand History, Victoria University historian Dr Giselle Byrnes lays damning charges against the tribunal, describing its attempts to write history as a “noble, but ultimately flawed experiment”.

The tribunal, she says, is not writing “objective history”. Rather, the reports it produces are deeply political and overwhelmingly focused on the present. It commits the ultimate faux pas of judging the past by the standards of the present.

Tribunal history also has a strong Maori bias, Dr Byrnes says. Maori characters and stories are given much more emphasis and weight than Pakeha characters and stories. “The reports increasingly champion or advocate the Maori cause.”

This is not the first time an historian has questioned the academic integrity of the history produced by the Waitangi Tribunal. Other historians – including Keith Sorrenson, Michael Belgrave and Bill Oliver – have raised similar concerns.

Other academics are also concerned, but reluctant to say anything publicly, Dr Byrnes says.

“I know that many historians have felt some kind of disquiet about the sort of history the tribunal has been producing over the past few years. They haven’t spoken out about it because most historians have liberal political leanings and they don’t want to be seen as undermining or criticising the whole process.”

“This is an area of energy and activity that is exposing a huge amount about our history. We need to pay it serious attention because the tribunal is publishing these historical narratives and people are buying these books thinking they are truthful accounts.”

Dr Byrnes … believes the tribunal should make overtly clear its inherent bias, otherwise there is a danger that lay people reading tribunal reports will be misled.

“If you don’t read the reports alongside the legislation it does look like it’s very biased history.”

 Her experience sounds eerily similar to that of sceptical climate scientists.

Now this was from 2004. But if you think the Treaty brownwashing process has become more balanced in recent years, stay tuned.

Thanks for this article to Ross Baker of the One New Zealand Foundation.


3 thoughts on “Vic historian damns Waitangi Tribunal bias

  1. While the article below by the Chairman of the Waitangi Tribunal, Chief Judge Eddie Durie referred to the claimants, the Tribunal and Office of Treaty Settlements were also falsifying history to allow claims to proceed. It seems little has changed since 1999 except for the millions of dollars of public funds and some of our most valuable assets have been given to settle these false claims, claims based on rewritten history.

    Copy of an article published in the New Zealand Herald, Wednesday 17 November 1999.

    A14 N Z Herald Wednesday, November 17, 1999.

    Judge queries ethics of treaty demands
    Researchers ‘pressured to change findings’

    WELLINGTON – Some Treaty of Waitangi claimants have asked researchers to change findings that would be unhelpful to their cases says the chairman of the Waitangi Tribunal.
    Justice Durie said also that some tribes had even tried to make the payments of researchers conditional on findings being altered.
    He said the issue – and several others – had raised questions about the need for a code of ethics for researchers claims lodged under the Treaty.
    The comments were in a paper, Ethics and Values, released on the Indigenous people and Law website.
    Justice Durie said some groups had required commissioned researchers to remove material unhelpful to the claimant’s cases or amend their conclusions.
    Sometimes this was a condition of the researchers being paid.
    Some also presented biased claims, omitting evidence against their argument that should be presented.
    “There are also complaints from researchers of instructions not to consult with certain persons, or only those approved by the claimant groups,” said Justice Durie.
    While codes of Ethics had caused problems with indigenous claims overseas, he believed they were a good idea.
    Tribunal Director, Morrie Love believed the problem raised had occurred with contracted researchers.
    The Tribunal had had problems with some claimant’s reports but this was now rare.
    It now had a wide historical overview of issues covered by the claims around the country and was able to pick up any of the discrepancies quickly.
    Claimants could obviously say what the wanted.
    “At the end of the day, a claimants claim is a claimants claim”.
    But claims were heavily scrutinized. Once submitted, the Crown case was also put followed by an independent tribunal report.
    A code of ethics was probably a good idea, but ultimately it was up to researchers to fulfil their ethical responsibilities.
    Justice Durie said other issues which, could be covered by a code were:

    · A view by some claimants that kaumatua opinions and recollections should not be challenged or cross-examined.
    · Whether all evidence presented to the tribunal should be publicly available.

    “The Tribunal is able to restrict the publication and availability of material, but blanket restrictions give the appearance of secrecy and undermine public confidence in the process”.
    Final statements as a result of the claim process so far (1999) total more than $530 million

  2. Tribunal history is probably the only place, where a “strong Maori bias” is possible. Giselle Byrnes more than anyone, should know the age old phrase that history is the story of the Victors ! Isn’t it actually time to hear the other end of the story ?

    Byrnes says. Maori characters and stories are given much more emphasis and weight than Pakeha characters and stories. Yes ! – Isnt that the point of it all. If one wanted to read a more Pakeha version, why would they look toward claim material for this purpose ?? If I wanted an informative book, I probably wouldn’t go looking for it at the Court House. Further more, has Giselle Byrnes forgotten that up until the 1970s, narratives about Maori did not ever include “names”. A book could be written about Maori with nameless characters. Isn’t it time to give them names … it sure is … and “this” is that time ! She worked at the tribunal, has she forgotten its purpose, to research and present findings on the Treaty Breaches as perceived by Maori.

    A further comment in regard to “emphasis” … lucky for some Crown employees that emphasis is rather minimal. Lets take Colonel Charles Brown, of Inglewood – the Government Land Buying Agent. A very shifty character. Brown was accused of writing false treasury vouchers, and subsequently dismissed. In a story about land transactions, its highly relevant. However, low level Crown employees are not referred to by name in a Historical Account. They are referred to as “The Crown”. Of course his penchant to have various Maori women as lovers would have added to the richness of the account, bringing him to life ! Thats not happening either. #wink

    Giselle Byrnes sounds like she is disgruntled about something else, especially when she knows the function of the job … sounds like a hippie who wanted to change the world, but was never given the chance. The University is the best place for her. Shes a wonderful writer as well, surveyors are her “thing” !

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