Nation as Partnership: Law, “Race,” and Gender in Aotearoa New Zealand's Treaty Settlements


  • I would like to thank the University of California Humanities Research Institute for the invitation to participate in the Comparative Multiculturalisms research project as a Resident Fellow. Thanks also to Wayne Rumbles for research assistance, and to my colleagues at the University of Waikato School of Law for support generally and for comments. Finally, thanks are due to the anonymous referees of this article and to the editors of Law & Society Review, who all provided helpful and insightful comments and feedback.

Please direct correspondence to Nan Seuffert, University of Waikato School of Law, Hamilton, New Zealand; e-mail:


This article uses postcolonial theory to analyze the dynamic convergence of two significant international trends in Aotearoa New Zealand: the movement for reparations for historical colonial injustices, and the economic reform process known as “structural adjustment,” or Reaganomics in the United States, which was intended to produce a competitive nation of individual entrepreneurs. It argues that analysis of the interrelationships of law, “race,” gender, and nation in this convergence illuminates the reproduction and reshaping of colonial tropes, or historical racial configurations produced through colonization, in these current trends. In Aotearoa New Zealand, claims by indigenous Maori activists for self-determination and redress of historical injustices spurred the emergence of alternative imagined communities with the potential to transform the nation. These alternative visions for the nation were shaped and limited by the economic law and policy reform of structural adjustment, producing a new official nationalism of partnership, implemented in settlements of breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi 1840. These partnerships resulted in a new individual identity of Maori men as entrepreneurs in a competitive nation. It produced a symbolic alliance of men across race that silenced and erased Maori activists' demands, and the leadership of Maori women, at the national level. The high profile partnerships, the erasure of Maori women, and relentless media attention to claims of sexism in Maori culture reproduced colonial tropes with images of the “progress” of the partnerships “saving” brown women from the sexism of brown men and “traditional” cultures. In this complex process the settlements were rational exercises of agency by the new Maori entrepreneurs with the goal of achieving economic autonomy, and worked to silence and erase the leadership of Maori women at the national level, even while women continued to be recognized as leaders at the local and regional levels. This analysis suggests that realization of the transformative potential of claims for redress of historical racial injustices requires attention to the repetition of raced and gendered dynamics of imagined communities that shape and limit that potential.