Watching the accession of King Charles III as King of New Zealand was a reminder of what an awkward fit the British Monarchy is in the Isles of Aotearoa. Much of the pageantry, positions, script and ceremony is alien to us as a nation, and still indeed are many of the core rituals of government.
Today’s events made it very clear that we cannot grow as an independent nation while still saddled with the outdated white, stale, male (mostly) rituals of older times in the UK.
I like pageantry, in its place. I love it in London, where the common rituals meld seamlessly with a (rather idealised, but still) view of English society. It is colourful, pretty, entertaining and interesting. One of my favourite tourist spots in the world is the Tower of London, whether it be trying to imagine being imprisoned in those towers, be beheaded on the lawn, or indeed merely to gawk at the crown jewels.
I was named after Elizabeth II and have been used to having her around all my life. I squeezed out a tear. It would be fair to say that her family, with their comings and goings, have been of continued interest in a sort of soap opera sense.
Like many, I wondered about whether Charles, who appears to be a very uncertain and flawed character, would be capable of stepping up into the role of King (however arduous it is beyond large numbers of ceremonies). He has always appeared both self-indulgent and emotionally weak. Still, he does appear to have surrounded himself with stable people, including his wife and his sons (who do seem to have a bit of get up and go). And their wives.
But even that isn’t the point. The point is that we have long outgrown having a Head of State who lives in a different country and, despite familiarity, does not really know about our lives and aspirations.
This does leave Aotearoa with a problem, though – with what will we replace the monarchy as our head of state? I doubt if anyone wants the kind of leader who gets their position by birth alone, even though that could, all things being equal, fall within Māori tikanga.
Few probably have much faith in the 4 year term of an elected President, such as in the USA, either, especially given recent turbulence. The US model, supposed to be based on a balance of powers, is stupid, unwieldy and endlessly corrupt.
Māori will, if the matter arises, be asking for significantly more say in the governance of the nation. The Treaty of Waitangi, itself a kind of balance of powers, will need to be rewritten to provide shared kawanatanga and a new model of tino rangatiratanga.
In the past such questions would have been answered by a referendum. And I am sure there will be one, perhaps at the 2026 election. But, whoever is the government then, they will know that the will of the majority is not the only voice that will need to be listened to. In particular, if Māori can come together and propose a form of leadership that shares esteem and powers and takes us forward, such proposals would be unstoppable.
I cannot for the minute think of any nation that has adopted a highly successful form of indigenous leadership based on something new. Mandela, of course, but there was an incredible backstory and his successors have not always crowned themselves in glory.
We need to work through all of this very carefully. Do we want just a ceremonial leader, or an active one? If active, what will their relationship be with, well, everyone?
I assume that we will stay part of the Commonwealth, reflecting our roots. The Commonwealth is also quite a useful forum for us in terms of relationships. Most of these countries have long shed the monarchy as head of state.
Some, but not all, European countries, perhaps France and Germany, might also be models we might aspire to.
So perhaps we can start by researching how others are doing, considering alternative models and coming up with some proposals.
Having looked outwards, we must also look inwards. Many Māori leadership forms are iwi based, and there are a few other forms (I believe the Kingitanga movement is pan-tribal). What kind of model would best reflect the needs of Māori? How can Aotearoa reflect itself in the world as a multicultural society with a strong and vibrant indigenous community?
The time is not yet, but is coming, when these debates will have to take place about our future as a proud and independent nation. I welcome them. Republicanism is about self-rule and self-determination and it is our future.
At that point, too, empty debates about a new flag will take on a major significance as we wrestle with the nation’s future. I can’t wait.