Money is a Hallmark of Sovereignty

Incorporating Te Reo Māori as wide as possible is critical to the survival of our language. Initially, I’d thought it was great to see Te Reo increasingly used and recognised in formal institutions. Yet, I find myself in two minds about its inclusion on New Zealand’s banknotes and I wonder about the implications of incorporating Te Reo into the national monetary complex.

Money is a controversial topic in economics and in general. I don’t here pretend to be any kind of expert. However, I do think it is important to unpack the risks to Māori of our language being incorporated into the sovereign currency. Especially in the context of the Waitangi Tribunal’s recent finding that Māori never ceded sovereignty to the Crown when signing Te Tiriti o Waitangi.  A view already established by many Māori.

I do appreciate the Reserve Bank’s intention to be inclusive by acknowledging “Te Reo as one of New Zealand’s official languages”.  And I understand, for some people it’s just be words on a bit of a paper. For others, it may even strengthen the vision of  the ‘partnership’ between Māori and the Crown by putting te reo in perpetual circulation via paper money.  Others suggest it represents a step forward for race relations in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Personally, I’m not inclined to accept that it reflects partnership at all nor am I convinced its a ‘step forward’ for race relations. It reeks of status quo integration and arguably implies that Māori have no future interest in creating our own currency to reflect our  tino rangatiratanga status.  Additionally, there is an obvious power imbalance in the fact that only the Crown can decree banknotes legal tender and only the Crown can issue fiat money. Arguably, inclusion of te reo intends to remove the desire of Māori to push for rights over money creation that reflect our values and language. It’s a placative move by the economic powers to avoid discussions with Māori on sovereign currency. It spells out indirectly that there is no intention of Māori ever attaining power to create our own currency and we should just be satisfied with the tokenism of our language on Crown banknotes.

My concern in its most cynical form then, is that inclusion of te reo is intended to evade future discussions of the right of Māori to develop our own sovereign currency.

Perhaps the move by the Reserve Bank fosters the idea that sovereignty in Aotearoa New Zealand is not restricted to the Crown, but is inclusive of Māori. However, that view would be inconsistent with the Reserve Banks comments which were clearly about language recognition. So I doubt any broader intention can be drawn from such a clear act of tokenism. As such, I think that the Reserve Bank proceeded with their decision to incorporate te reo prematurely. They ought to have consulted with Māori on the broader implications of incorporating Te Reo Māori on banknotes allowing time for discussion, debate, and submissions. Merely seeking advice from institutions about which words were most appropriate simply wasn’t enough. Of course, I may be stretching it a bit in presuming that the Reserve Bank’s actions actually limit the development of a Māori currency. However, as is often the case, intentions can be contextualised through surrounding circumstances and it is precisely the lack of consultation, the avoidance of addressing the wider implications, and the symbolism embraced by an industry that peripherises Māori, that drew out my inner-cynic.

Why I am taking exception? Perhaps, I am overthinking it. But money is a hallmark of sovereignty.  And given our sovereignty was recently recognised by the Waitangi Tribunal I wanted to draw attention to the connection between money and sovereignty as an issue that requires further consideration by Māori in this context.


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