10 Questions with Rachael Bell, co-editor of The Treaty on the Ground

<p>Rachael Bell, co-editor of <em>The Treaty on the Ground</em>.</p>

Rachael Bell, co-editor of The Treaty on the Ground.

Now that it is published, what pleases you most about The Treaty on the Ground?

For me it’s the variety of contributors and their experiences. This book is full of hands-on, grass-roots examples of implementing the Treaty across a whole range of situations and across some of the most formative decades in our recent history. The New Zealand I grew up in, in the seventies, is very different from Aotearoa/New Zealand today and this volume captures much of that change.


Why is that important?

The Treaty is a document but it is also a conversation. To carry that conversation on in the future there has to be commitment. In the public view there is a tendency to equate Treaty with Tribunal, or that it’s just something between Māori and the government, or that it’s all been sorted. It’s easy to dismiss and we let that happen. This book shows that it has not ‘been sorted’ and also the huge potential sitting there for us all in New Zealand in having the Treaty as a framework for best practice.


Who did you draw together as the team of contributing writers?

This volume came out of a conference we held in 2015 to mark the 175th anniversary of the Treaty signings. We were looking to gather as many Treaty ‘practitioners’ as we could — Māori, Pākehā, male, female, government/public service, law, arts, education, environment, protest movements, advocacy, trust boards. We also had an emerging researchers’ day to capture some of the excellent new work being done in these areas. The conference papers formed the basis of the chapters, which also now reflect some of the broader discussions we had there. It was a very wide cast of the net and we were thrilled at the people who came forward to add their voice.


Tell us about one major new thing you learnt from their chapters?

For me it was the effect of the neo-liberal reforms, that period of massive restructuring that came in with Lange’s Labour government in 1984. Not just the immediate changes which, once the dust settled, I think, had clear winners and losers, but also the way in which those values and priorities continue to define how the Treaty is implemented today, through the Tribunal process, for example, and requirements for trust boards. The Treaty and the reforms burst into public discourse at around the same time, but I had not considered the ongoing connection so much until I was working on the book.


What is the challenge and potential of living by the Treaty?

It’s got to be a positive step — how can it not be? It may just be an historian thing, but I truly believe that understanding and being square with our past can only make us stronger going forward. All the way through this book are examples of governments, institutions, organisations, individuals going so far in acknowledging perspectives, allowing access to resources or supporting deep-seated change, but then withdrawing or withholding it at the critical moment when that change could occur. It’s about fear, I think. We have been conditioned for so long about one way being right and another way being wrong; acknowledging the Treaty is an act of courage. Damian Skinner’s chapter is one of my favourites in this book. That is what it’s about.


Being the book’s co-editor: exhausting or exhilarating?

I would say both in equal measure. This is my first edited book and with such a wide range of contributors and voices it was a bit of an initiation by fire. But fascinating. I have really enjoyed the variety and the passion.


How did you find time for the book given your busy teaching workload?

Mainly just getting up early and going to bed late. Sometimes very early and very late! As a project it has carried its own momentum. But editing, I’ve discovered, is a lot about managing other people’s time, not just your own, and that’s more of a challenge.


What is the best time of the day for you for writing?

First thing in the morning — 5.00, 5.30 — and then again in the late afternoon. I’m not sure why that is, but there is a lot of mucking around that goes on in between, unfortunately.


What cunning strategies do you deploy when the going gets tough?

Just dig deep. There are some really great aspects of working in an academic job and some that are plain hard work. You have to take the one with the other and just get on with it. You can’t be precious. But I also live on a farm block, which provides a good balance. There is nothing like a few hours in the sheep yards before work for keeping it real.


What are you reading at the moment?

Well, I’d like to say something profound and intellectual, but seeing as it is the summer break at the moment it’s actually Good Dog, an anthology of New Zealand writing on dogs that I was given for my birthday. I usually have a couple of books on the go, though, and I am also reading the writings of Liberty Hyde Bailey, an American agrarian from the early nineteen hundreds (more interesting than it sounds!) and flicking through Merino Country by Paul Hersey and Derek Morrison for its beautiful photography.