This Government's decision to formalise its support for the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples will help to restore New Zealand's mana in addressing indigenous rights, according to Maori Affairs Minister Dr Pita Sharples.
Speaking from the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York, where he announced the decision this morning (NZ time), Dr Sharples said the UN Declaration sets standards for all nations to aspire to.
"This is a non-binding declaration, which was drafted by indigenous peoples' representatives and negotiated with state parties over more than twenty years. It recognises the rights of indigenous peoples to self-determination, to maintain their own languages and cultures, to protect their natural and cultural heritage and manage their own affairs," Dr Sharples said.
"The Declaration is entirely consistent with the Treaty of Waitangi, and our statement of support for the Declaration acknowledges the central role of the Treaty in New Zealand's past, present and future. However, New Zealand was one of only four countries to vote against the Declaration.
"This was a great disappointment to Maori, and called into the question the previous government's commitment to Crown-Maori relationships based on the Treaty of Waitangi. It also undermined New Zealand's credibility on human rights in the eyes of the world," he said.
"Today's announcement restores our mana and our moral authority to speak in international fora on issues of justice, rights and peace," said Dr Sharples.
"It reflects well on the relationship between the National and Maori Parties that this Government has been able to endorse this important declaration. This is a small but significant step towards building better relationships between Maori and the Crown. I hope the same spirit of goodwill can guide us to a resolution of the foreshore and seabed issue, which has also raised concerns at the United Nations.
"I want to pay tribute to the 40-plus Maori delegates, among the many other indigenous people, who have travelled the world since 1988 to help draft the Declaration we are supporting today. This is their day to celebrate," he said.