The recent excitement prompting many New Zealanders to do away with statues and place names connected to our national history, raises a huge question about who we are as a nation and what our young people are to be instructed in regarding our “emerging national identity”-- a phrase used by our exalted leader in her comments about the compulsory teaching of New Zealand history in our schools from 2020.
I cannot believe that in New Zealand in the 21st century, there are so many whose understanding of our history, (if indeed they have any knowledge of or interest in it) is so shallow. But such shallowness can be exploited by our government and a pathetically incompetent, totally biased, politicised media, as a portent to teaching New Zealand history to the next generation of school children. And I am appalled that so many of our educators seem to be supportive of a potentially revised, sanitised, selective and in places, untruthful presentation of New Zealand’s history.
It used to be that history was presented as a factual occurrence at a specific time and place in which various identified parties were involved, and from which there were results or outcomes.
Why did the event take place? To answer this question, centuries after the event(s) took place, we rely upon evidence usually consisting of written accounts at the time by (usually) a reliable scribe. Later documentary, forensic or archaeological evidence confirming the event is often subsequently available through scholastic research. Others, of course, rely upon intergenerational oral histories and story-telling as the vehicle.
Today, however, it has become politically and socially fashionable to rewrite, sanitise, revise, reinterpret, omit entirely and even make up, certain aspects of our history to suit political and cultural agendas. It is entirely feasible that our young people will be denied certain historical knowledge, and instead be fed propaganda carefully designed to discredit our colonial past, blaming people of European descent for all of society’s ills. The signs are already here.
In New Zealand’s case, the earliest history of our first migrants is mainly oral, via generations of story-tellers passing on their stories to subsequent generations. In some cases, there is also physical evidence through archaeological digs.
In pre- and post Treaty of Waitangi times, our colonial history is mainly based on the writings of missionaries and early printed media. Concurrently, our first migrants were continuing their intergenerational oral accounts, from their perspective.
Our learned judges have declared that both approaches to history are valid in law. But obviously, oral histories are not subject to the same academic scrutiny or rigour as is written, documented history.
To question or challenge the oral historian in 2020 New Zealand would certainly cause offence- and inevitably be branded as racist.
It gets far more complex as we delve into the subject. Modern-day historians expound their view that there is no one true history-that there are many histories and that all are valid.
If this liberal approach to history is considered to be both valid and reliable, whose version of “history” is to comprise the fundamental platform for teaching New Zealand history to our schoolchildren?
The obvious answer is that ALL histories need to be covered and only then can a person make up their own mind as to the veracity, reliability and validity of what is being taught. Those teaching our history must absolutely avoid presenting their own personal biases. The professional educator is, in my view, ethically bound to be impartial and objective. Sadly, egos and academic careers, not to mention bicultural and separatist agendas often inspire individuals to abandon such standards in favour of politically-motivated publicity or media exposure in international journals, leaving it up to others to call them to account, resulting in yet more publicity - and confusion.
To use a religious metaphor, there is an approach to sin which includes commission (one commits the sin) and omission (what one should have done but did not).
In the teaching of history, what to include is one set of decisions, and what to omit is another. In the former case an additional factor is how to present what is included -facts, their interpretation, supporting evidence, culminating hopefully in a balanced presentation where several perspectives of the same event are canvassed. If an opinion is included, it must be clearly stated as such, otherwise all sorts of mistruths can be introduced. Remember, the status of the lecturer or teacher assumes they are truthful and impartial.
To include only some perspectives of an historical event, to the exclusion of others, is to commit the academic sin of omission. It is also misleading and totally dishonest. Likewise, to embellish or twist or otherwise distort the event for social, cultural or political advantage is also fundamentally dishonest. And further, to invoke “presentism”, ie interpreting past events using today’s standards, is equally flawed, yet widely used as the primary vehicle for politicised, historical revisionism.
What happened, happened. You cannot “unhappen” history.
Let’s take the modern-day socio-political and cultural activist’s attitudes to the treaty of Waitangi. Governments, the bureaucracy, a totally biased media, some jurists, and of course our overwhelmingly neo- Marxist academic fraternity, promote a version of the treaty and its historical evolution based on the highly- personalised opinions of Dr Claudia Orange in her 1987 book, The Treaty of Waitangi. Orange’s version has become THE treaty bible, hailed by politicians and biculturalists and to be found on government websites and in Ministry of Education curricula materials. Contrast this with the long-established printed authority on the treaty by T. Lindsay Buick, whose version, based on historical records and official documents of the time, was long considered by eminent historians such as Professor Keith Sinclair and Dr Michael King, to be a very reliable treatment of the treaty.
Orange summarily dismisses Buick’s treatment in her preface as “merely a collection of documents with no attempt to analyse or interpret such evidence and containing a great deal of error”. Funny, that’s not what Sinclair, King and other prominent pre-1987 historians concluded, otherwise they would have said so?
Orange’s version, instead, comprises her own biased and highly-personalised views which, with virtually no challenges, has become the official state dogma.
However, her original thesis was indeed substantially critiqued by Professor Gordon Parsonson of the History Department at Otago University in the Otago Daily Times (Friday,8 July 1988, page 21) as being significantly deficient on a number of accounts. You would have to look very hard indeed to find ANY treatment of Parsonson’s critique of Orange in a university-level history class. Academic historians omit any such reference because it would weaken the esteem accorded Orange’s “classic”. Eminent academics and biculturalists tell us that the wording of the Treaty of Waitangi is not important. The treaty does not mean what it actually says but what they say it means. Much more important is what they claim to be “the spirit” of the Treaty and the “principles” (undefined anywhere), which lie therein. In other words, these prominent persons tell us what it means, today, not what all parties understood it to mean 180 years ago - a most classic case of “presentism”.
For anyone interested, there exists a comprehensive literature which challenges and seriously questions the validity and reliability of the state’s dogma regarding the Treaty of Waitangi. I have termed this an “alternative” treaty literature to highlight a range of serious challenges it makes to the state’s orthodoxy. This comprehensive, alternative treaty literature shows the state dogma to be politically, socially and ethnically biased, and in many places, totally untrue. The alternative treaty literature comprises extremely erudite academic and popular analyses of both treaty history and it’s propagandised adoption by successive governments under the rubric of biculturalism. Authors of the alternative treaty literature include prominent academic or popular authors such as Elizabeth Ross, Professor Peter Munz, Professor Bill Oliver; David Round: June Jackson; Walter Christie; Dr John Robinson, Mike Butler, Stephen Franks; Stuart C Scott; Kenneth Minogue; Sir Douglas Graham; Hon David Lange; Giselle Byrnes; Andy Oakley; Professor Philip Joseph; Ian Wishart; and others-if one cares to look.
However, try to find these contributors in our academic and government-sponsored programmes on the treaty and you will come up with a big fat zero. The failure of modern academic historians and others to firstly admit that there is a comprehensive and academically respectable alternative treaty literature available to students and secondly, where to access it, is deplorable.
The obvious reason these academic charlatans withhold such knowledge is that to acknowledge its existence gives it credibility - which they oppose at all costs, because it weakens their own and the government’s orthodoxy and seriously challenges much of the historical propaganda to which they are institutionally and politically now bound to promote. When challenged on this point, these academics respond by branding ANY criticism of the state dogma as “racist”.
Take for example, the popular writings of Stuart C Scott, a prominent Dunedin businessman.
Despite Scott’s initial book, The Travesty Of Waitangi, undergoing seven reprints, it is still not recognised as a contribution to our wider understanding of the treaty - again, because to recognise it gives it credibility, which our academic historians have decided it does not deserve. Such are the sins of omission.
Banning offensive (to some) terms and place names, along with tangible reminders of past events, will do absolutely nothing to change the past. To expunge all history with which we disagree, or which uses presentism as its vehicle is so ludicrous as to be laughable.
Our national leaders and institutions are quite adept at sanitising our history when it suits. For example, one event in New Zealand’s colonial history is the “invasion” of the Maori settlement of Parihaka in Taranaki, by government troops and Armed Constabulary in 1881. Labelled New Zealand’s own “Holocaust” by the academically-discredited and totally-politicised Waitangi Tribunal, in its attempt to draw a parallel to the genocide of six million Jews in WW2, the most serious injury was a young boy’s foot being trampled by a horse!
The criminal leaders of Parihaka were deported to Dunedin and it is claimed, were kept in caves and severely maltreated. Some prisoners did succumb to natural causes whilst in exile, but not because of any maltreatment, as is claimed. It transpires that the caves on the McAndrews Bay causeway on which the prisoners worked, were in fact used to store explosives used in the causeway construction but which also served as shelters from severe weather out on the job. They were never “imprisoned” or kept captive in these caves.
The prisoners were in fact housed in the Dunedin Jail at night and according to the daughter of the then Jailer, they would be locked out (not in) if not back at the jail by 7pm!
To take this “adjustment” of history to its conclusion, surely the McAndrews Bay causeway must now be dismantled as it serves as a permanent reminder of how badly these prisoners were treated - having to work on public works. It is a monument to ethnic subjugation and racism so must be dismantled, should it not?
More recently, Ngapuhi Kaumatua David Rankin has called upon Tainui to take down Turangawaewae Marae which he said represents a dark period in his iwi’s history when Tainui slavers abused his Ngapuhi people to build their marae and grow crops for them.
Well, my dad had to work on public works during the Depression or starve, so I had better mount a protest to destroy all public works which used prisoner or depression-era labour, because it is now considered to be offensive.
What utter bunkum, bulldust and balderdash!
Our museums should be at least one set of institutions which faithfully record and present our history through the display of artefacts and exhibitions.
Consider the Moriori exhibition at our national museum, Te Papa a few years ago. The Te Papa board decided that the display would not mention the fact that two Taranaki Iwi, Ngati Mutanga and Ngati Tama travelled to the Chatham Islands and slaughtered hundreds of peaceable Moriori, subjugated them and occupied their land. When challenged recently, spokespeople for the murderous tribes simply explained that “conquest and subjugation is our culture”. Regional museums are not exempt from political intrusion either. The Otago Museum has no displays of colonial history, but extensive displays recreating the lives and customs of our first migrants. When challenged on this point, their response was “go to the Early Settlers museum down the road”. At least there was a separate alternative. Not so at Christchurch, which has recently decided to remove a series of dioramas depicting the lives and customs of our first migrants. These dioramas had been constructed with input from local iwi but now are seen to be offensive, partly because the subjects are portrayed as primitive. The bookshop at Te Papa is overwhelmingly focused on books and other objects associated with our first migrants.
So, even at the highest levels of our so-called inclusive and ever- so sophisticated society, events which reflect badly on our first migrants can now be omitted from public scrutiny.
We might also reflect upon the Musket Wars of the early 1800s where Maori slaughtered about a quarter (60,000) of their own Maori population of the time. Or the murderous raid by the Pai Marire “prophet”, te Kooti at Matawhero near Gisborne, where some 80 friendly Maori and Pakeha, men, women and children were murdered? Or perhaps, the murder and dismembering of the Rev Karl Volkner whose severed head (along with others) was circulated amongst dissident iwi as a prelude to further violence?
These incidents will inevitably be omitted in the sanitised version of our history, along with many other not-so- pleasant aspects of our first migrant’s culture, to which we must all now pay homage.
However, there will alternatively be a huge focus on incidents in our colonial history which accuse the colonisers of all sorts of atrocities and warlike activities.
I do not always agree with Winston Peters but on the issue of destruction of statues etc, his advice to “grow up and read a book” is timely. If you expunge all reference to those aspects of our history with which you disagree, how on earth are our young people to learn what actually happened?
Sorry, forgot - the state will tell them what happened and will of course omit those aspects they do not want our youngsters to be made aware of.
Henry Armstrong is retired, follows politics, and writes.