Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Karl du Fresne: Sabotage is not too strong a word

During Maori Language Week in July, my wife and I attended a kapa haka concert followed by a hangi at our grandson’s school. It was a charming event in which the whole school performed. We were impressed with the way even the younger classes had memorised the words and actions of the songs.
The kids obviously enjoyed themselves, yet I came away with a nagging feeling of unease. It is not a Maori school; in fact there are relatively few Maori pupils. It serves a suburb with an ethnically diverse population. To have mastered all those songs and actions must have taken a lot of classroom time, and I had to wonder whether there were other things the children might more usefully have been learning.

It’s good that they are exposed to Maori culture, because that’s part of what it means to be a New Zealander. The kids obviously love it and I’m sure the teachers find it much more enjoyable – easier, too – than dreary stuff like writing and spelling.
But it’s all a question of degree and proportion. Knowing a lot of Maori songs isn’t going to help those children get ahead in a world that’s likely to be a lot more challenging than the one I grew up in. 

That kapa haka concert was just one tiny example of a cultural sea change that has taken place over the past three decades or so.
Humanity has a wonderful propensity for lurching from one extreme to another, and so it is with New Zealand’s embrace of Maori culture.

We were exposed to very little of it when I was a child. Although there was a substantial Maori population in the town I grew up in, there was only one Maori family at the convent school I attended. A member of that family told me a couple of years ago that it hadn’t even occurred to her and her siblings that they were Maori. As far as members of that family were concerned, they were the same as everyone else. (And of course they were, in every respect but their skin colour.)
That couldn’t happen now, because a massive shift has taken place in which Maori are encouraged to focus on their Maori heritage, often to the complete exclusion of the European ancestry which virtually all of them share. They profess to treasure their whakapapa, but strangely overlook that part of it which has left so many of them with European surnames such as Morgan, Durie, Sykes, Jackson, Paul and Rankin.

At the same time, Maori have moved from being almost invisible, at least politically, to the point where they now exert a great deal of political and economic power.
This has come about largely because politicians decided the Treaty of Waitangi had been ignored for too long. Historical grievances had to be corrected and Maori granted their proper place.

Their intentions were good, but I wonder whether they even began to understand the genie they were letting out of the bottle.
At first the shift was low-key and gradual. We were puzzled by demands that nursing students undergo courses in something called cultural safety. People scratched their heads when they attended events not remotely connected with Maoridom and had to sit through long Maori orations that no one understood.

We tolerated feel-good tokenism such as the display of Maori signage in public places and the coining of new Maori words for things like cellphones. We watched as government departments, hospitals, schools and universities rushed to embrace Maoriness, employing Maori consultants, incorporating Maori tikanga into their practices, adopting highly prescriptive policies for engaging with Maori – as if their needs were fundamentally different from those of their fellow citizens – and sending bemused staff on overnight marae visits.
We wondered why, in a modern, secular society, people stood in  reverent silence while tohunga removed tapu on new buildings, and we thought it ridiculous when public works projects were held up by Maori concerns that a taniwha might be disturbed, but we didn’t raise too much of a fuss. And we were persuaded that Treaty settlements of up to $170 million were just and fair compensation for the wrongs of the past, even when a few lonely voices protested that compensation had already been paid.

Many people were even convinced that New Zealand had a shameful race relations record, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. (Yes, shameful things were done, but they were more than balanced by efforts to treat Maori fairly and honourably.)
We went along with all this because New Zealanders are essentially tolerant, liberal people who respect Maori and appreciate Maoridom’s unique contribution to our sense of national identity. We are easily persuaded to do the right thing.

But I detect a distinct change of mood in recent weeks: a stiffening resistance to the rising clamour from Maori voices seeking to embed a two-tier system in which they would control crucial assets and resources.

New Zealanders are passive people (a friend reckons lazy is a better description) who will put up with a lot before deciding: no, this has gone too far. They have now reached that point because of greedy, opportunistic and divisive claims from Maori leaders who have been humoured for so long – by courts, politicians and tribunals – that they think their waka is unstoppable.
The goodwill that exists between Maori and Pakeha is being stretched to breaking point. People are not impressed by the posturing of the Maori king, who has none of his late mother’s mana or dignity, or of his right-hand man (eminence grise might be a better term), Tuku Morgan.

We are entitled to be sceptical about their motives. While privileged tribes accumulate riches and pull political strings, we continue to be reminded every day of an entrenched Maori underclass that shows no sign of having enjoyed economic trickle-down from the well-heeled iwi elite.
It’s true that the government has managed its asset sales programme ineptly. Yet I have no doubt that if John Key were to call a snap election over the Maori attempt to derail asset sales, he would win overwhelming support – not because people are in favour of asset sales (they’re not), but because of the bigger principles at stake.

Will it happen? I can’t see it. It would simply be too divisive. The government would worry, quite rightly, that the fracture between Maori and Pakeha would take years to heal.
But something has to happen. The ultimatums emanating from some figures in Maoridom are a direct challenge to the national interest at a time when the country is in its most vulnerable state since World War II. Sabotage is not too strong a word.

First published in the Nelson Mail and Manawatu Standard.


Anonymous said...

The people most responsible for this rot are European neo-Marxist radicals, who from around the 1930's onwards have been working to turn every possible "identity" group into WMD's against their own host culture. Maori assimilation into western civilisation was once one of the world's great cultural success stories. The Maori Battalion sang "For God, For King, and For Country" and meant it. These old soldiers, and Sir Apirana Ngata and Sir Peter Buck and the Kohimarama Conference (1860) chiefs would be spinning in their graves.


Dave Hill said...

Like you I recently attended a 'talent' show at my grandsons local school, despite the majority of students being of light skin colour we were subjected to Maori greetings, Maori songs and Haka enthusiastically encouraged by the mostly white teachers. I acknowledge this is a part of NZ and our culture but where was the British or European culture represented, none at all. Its like all of us the other 86% of New Zealanders must become an honorary Maori and rather embarrassingly, sing Maori songs and preform Haka in some way to atone our terrible sins to this 'native' population.
I'm proud of my European ancestry but it seems we cannot acknowledge that publicly. Maori should also be proud of their ancestry and if they want to speak the language and perform cultural song etc good on them. Ask any child a question about British history and you get a blank stare but ask about the so called terrible crimes committed by the white colonisers and they will rattle off a long list.

kiwi said...

a measured and thoughtful piece. well done for speaking up

Anonymous said...

In my native country of South Africa, we used to have a term for ethnic privilege - Apartheid.

Unknown said...

I have to say I thought this article by Karl was complete rubbish but in comparison to the comments offered above, Karls small minded rant seems positivly enlightened!

If Maori assimilation (your ignorance in using this term is a topic all on its own) has been such a huge success Phil, why are Maori consistenly over represented in the worst statistics in the country. Maori have the highest unemployement, poverty, and mortality rates while simultaneously enjoying the lowest education, pay and health rates.

Dave, British and European culture is not represented at all in NZ Mainstream Schools? Really? How about the language spoken? How about the clothes worn, the food eaten and the subjects taught? How about the culture of the majority of the teachers in senior management? Since the introduction of public schooling in this country, education has been nothing but based on European culture and values. As for the 'embarassing' Maori songs that you are forced to sing Dave - perhaps you could request musical masterpieces like 'I've got a lovely bunch of coconuts' that we were required to repeat at school. And as for the terrible crimes committed by colonisers, I doubt very much that children are taught accurate history relating to settlement of this country as most adults wouldn't have a clue about the illegal and immoral land acquisiton that went on, let alone their children.

And Skollie, seriously? You do understand what Apartheid is don't you? Systematic racial segregation can only be achieved the collective agreement and co-ordination of the governing powers. While Maori are making exciting inroads into the political arena, Maori are not, nor will they be in the forseeable future, the dominant race or governing power in this country. So while I agree that there are many parallels between NZ colonisation and South African Apartheid, I suspect they are for very different reasons to yours.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Karl du Fresne, we need to start this conversation to turn the tide. In answer to M Lowden's observations "that Maori are consistently over represented in the worst statistics in the country" I would like to share some history that I lived in the mid to late 1970s. I resided in a rural maori community, the only European to do so at that time. I became alarmed at the number of 14 & 15 year old girls that were becoming pregnant.
I was positioned well enough to be able to suggest to some of these young girls that I would help them with contraception. I was repremanded by the Kuia of the tribe who told me to keep my pakeha ways to myself. They said it was a firm strategy to increase maori population numbers and the Pakeha government could pay the bill.

I have watched the decay of the Maori race since then. It is now coming into three generations of career solo beneficiary mentality. This is the reason the statistical representation is so high. I see it in family after family, the children of those 14 year old girls now have their own children who are starting to appear in the court pages. The pain in their eyes is profound, it is heartbreaking, they don't even understand why they are the victims. I cringe when I hear the political diatribe from Maori.

StevoC said...

Well well well, the answer lies in the comments by M Lowden, it is people with his/her attitude that are the problem with NZ at the moment, probably a teacher or public servant that swallow every pill the racists spout and cannot see the wood for the trees. These people really do need to open their eyes and do some study on NZs real history, if they want to finger point perhaps they should look at pre 1840 history and then start pointing their finger in the right direction. maori did nothing to help the original inhabitants of this country and have done nothing to help themselves since.