I may be talking out of turn – as an old Pakeha bloke that is – but I think it is useful to reflect on the bicultural journey in Aotearoa-New Zealand. So, I’d like to share some of the things that trouble me. Within the boundaries of the liberal capitalist state one of the most useful and progressive things we could do as a society is introduce compulsory Te Reo Māori into all levels of the education system. That would make a difference in a generation. We are told we don’t have the teachers but it could be done if the political will was there – with money, effort and commitment. Imagine a bilingual Aotearoa.
State policy initiatives directed at Māori over time have often been less than successful. Some things change and some things stay the same – like the disproportionate representation of Māori in all negative socio-economic statistics (Perry, 2012; Ware, Breheny and Foster, 2016).
The Children, Young Persons and their Families Act, 1989 (now the Oranga Tamariki Act) was driven by the vision of Puao te Ata Tu (A New Dawn). The Act was specifically focussed on the addressing the over-representation of tamariki Māori in state care. Thirty years later and Māori children and young people are still grossly over-represented. In fact the situation is probably worse. What went wrong?
The official narrative is that the whanau empowerment vison of the Act was flawed and that this has led to re-abuse and re-traumatisation (Expert Panel, 2015). But official state narratives are seldom completely truthful. The counter-narrative gets closer to the mark – that whanau decision-making, particularly kin placements, have not been adequately resourced or supported – that the 1989 Act degenerated into quick-fix state social work on the cheap in a neoliberal political climate (Hyslop, 2017). This is quite a bit more accurate but it also obscures the bigger picture which is about power, self-determination and the legacy of colonisation.
The colonial encounter between the settler emissaries of the British Crown and tangata whenua has been described as a clash of life-worlds (Quentin-Baxter, 1998). This clash of ‘cultures’ ultimately resulted in the systematic imposition of a European ideological system (liberal capitalism), especially through the alienation of Maori land into a system of individual ownership.
Liberal capitalism revolves around the concept of individual title to private property. This process of alienation occurred through war, confiscation, and through the operation of the Native Land Acts from the 1870’s. Puao te Ata Tu (1988) illustrates the objective of the colonising power as follows:
Those early Pakeha power brokers knew exactly what they were doing. It was summed up by the distinguished 19th century politician Sir Francis Dillon-Bell when he said, “The first plank of public policy must be to stamp out the beastly communism of the Maori”.
Land alienation is not ancient history. Postcolonial New Zealand doesn’t have any ancient history. Do you remember the middle New Zealand public and state-sponsored hysteria around the foreshore and seabed issue in the mid 2000’s, when it appeared that some remnant of customary Maori title might still exist under New Zealand law?
Puao te Ata Tu is not always well understood and a deeper understanding is not particularly convenient for the guardians of the status quo. This Report was not just about allowing, encouraging, or permitting Māori to practice their culture: establishing kapa haka in institutions, inserting te reo greetings into our e-mail introductions, or teaching tamaiti in out-of-family care something about their cultural heritage. These are not bad things in themselves but they are not enough.
The New Dawn Report was about a transfer of power, about tino rangitiratanga – about the same thing the Māori struggle has always been about: self-determination (Walker, 1990). Nothing has happened for Maori without resistance and struggle.
The Puao te Ata Tu text describes racism at a personal level but more importantly it talks about racism at the structural level – as a form of power. Institutional racism is reflected in the institutional structure of this country because that is precisely what the process of colonisation set out to do. The Report suggests how redress might be achieved in its first recommendation as follows:
We recommend that the following social policy objective be endorsed by the Government for the development of Social Welfare policy in New Zealand:
To attack all forms of cultural racism in New Zealand that result in the values and lifestyle of the dominant group being regarded as superior to those of other groups, especially Maori, by: (a) Providing leadership and programmes which help develop a society in which the values of all groups are of central importance to its enhancement; and (b) Incorporating the values, cultures and beliefs of the Māori people in all practice developed for the future of New Zealand.
This recommendation is not addressed solely to the Department of Social Welfare as it then was. It is directed to the New Zealand Government – the executive, legislature, the courts: the whole of the state. This, of course, is the real change that never happened. What did happen is that Tau Iwi authorities decided that institutional racism could be resolved by allowing Māori some degree of cultural process in child welfare decision making, some degree of cultural expression and that Tau Iwi might in fact benefit from learning some of this themselves. As illustrated above, this is not all that was recommended.
A real transfer of power to Iwi Māori would require more than treaty settlements that simply facilitate Maori ventures into corporate capitalism. It would require constitutional reform of the sort that has been advocated by Māori lawyers for decades. Moana Jackson (1995), for example, has tirelessly pursued the vison set down in writing by his great grandfather in 1892:
Those who came after are the ones who believed in new stories and turning new pages hoping in that way to change the way that we tell our stories to ourselves. But I will struggle on with the old stories about our tikanga, about our history, about our Treaty, about what has happened to our people since then. And I will struggle on in the hope that before those stories are finished they will have made it worth all the trouble for us now and for our mokopuna tomorrow.
It is time to move on and start thinking beyond the comfortable idea that a little bit of cultural tolerance within a liberal capitalist Pakeha world is all that is required. Precolonial Māori law existed as naturally as language. Could mana be restored? Could a real degree of power be returned to Iwi Māori? The answer is yes it could. The Urewera governance arrangements negotiated with Ngai Tuhoe offer one possible sign-post. As with Māori language in schools a significant degree of Māori self-determination within our nation state is feasible but a courageous leap in political will is required. Why have so many of us learned to lower our sights?
Expert Panel – Modernising Child Youth and Family (2015) Final Report: Investing in New Zealand’s Children and Their Families, Wellington, New Zealand, Ministry of Social Development, available online at www.msd.govt.nz/documents/about-msd-and-our-work/work-programmes/investing-in-children-report.pdf.
Hyslop, I. (2017). Child Protection in New Zealand: A History of the Future. British Journal of Social Work, 47(6), 1800 – 1817.
Jackson, M. (1995). Treaty Settlements: The Unfinished Business. Victoria University of Wellington Law Review, 1995.
Perry, B. (2012). Household income in New Zealand; Trends in indicators of inequality and hardship 1982–2011. Retrieved from Ministry of Social Development website: https://www.msd.govt.nz/…/household-incomes-report-2011-main-report
Puao Te Ata Tu (day break): The Report of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on a Māori perspective for the Department of Social Welfare. (1988). Wellington, New Zealand.
Walker, R. (1990). Ka Whawahi Tonu Matou – Struggle Without End. Auckland, New Zealand: Penguin.
Ware, F., Breheny, M. and Forster, M. (2016). The politics of government ‘support’ in the Aotearoa / New Zealand child welfare context: child abuse prevention or neo-liberal tool? Critical Social Policy. DOI: 10.1177/0261018314543224
Quentin-Baxter (Ed.). (1998). Recognizing the rights of indigenous people. Wellington, New Zealand: Institute of Policy Studies.