It seems to me that National has fundamentally misunderstood what the foreshore and seabed debate is about.
Key’s statements yesterday suggest it is about a mere symbolical recognition of an iwi’s traditional ties to sections of foreshore and seabed. It’s not. He seems to think it’s about beaches. It’s not. He seems to equate mana with nothing more than respect. It’s not.
In the past, National intentionally confused the issue by raising fears of access to the beaches to fuel racism but it’s nothing to do with the beaches. The foreshore is the inter-tidal zone. The seabed is the ground beneath the sea out to the edge of the continental shelf.
The customary rights that Maori want recognised are not just feel good symbols. They are property rights – the ability to use that land without needing to seek permission from someone else. In fact, the Ngati Apa case was based on the iwi asserting it had the right to conduct aquaculture using the seabed without needing to get permission from the local council based on its rights to that seabed which pre-dated the imposition of English law.
Mana is not just about being respected, it is also about having the power to do things. In this case, mana over foreshore and seabed means, in part, the power to use that land for economic activities as their ancestors did.
If Key is relaxed because he thinks Maori are asking for nothing substantial, he is in for a surprise. The Maori Party was not created because of a dispute over empty symbols. This is about iwi having their economic rights over the land of the foreshore and seabed recognised, giving them the power to use that land for economic purposes. The Maori Party will not be satisfied with less.
These two different understandings of what is at stake must come into conflict at some point.