Each year, on 25 January, Scots around the world gather to celebrate the birthday of their National Poet – Robbie Burns. This commemoration usually takes the form of a Burns Supper, but Scots in Auckland, Hokitika, Timaru and Dunedin also have the option of an event featuring their town’s fine statue of the poet. The statue in Dunedin’s Octagon, by noted 19th century sculptor, Sir John Steele, is one of three modelled on his famous original in Dundee, the others being in New York and London.
Given the status of Dunedin’s Burns statue, I was concerned a few years ago to find that it had been disrespectfully adorned by a group of Maori staging a Parihaka protest in the Octagon. I wrote to the DCC expressing the view that, whatever the merits of the cause the Parihaka protesters were espousing, that did not entitle them to show disrespect for the culture and heritage of others, especially that of the city’s Scottish founders. I requested that the DCC require future groups allowed to use the Octagon to show proper respect for the city’s iconic Burns statue. The reply I received advised that no action was being taken not because my case lacked merit but because I was the only person who had lodged such an objection.
Therein lies an essential truth about politics. Politics is about numbers not logic.
For more than 30 years, books and articles have explained the significance of Article 3 of the Treaty of Waitangi and its unifying granting of British Citizenship to all New Zealand’s inhabitants; the One New Zealand Foundation has correctly promoted the case for Queen Victoria’s Charter to be seen as our actual founding document and for the relegation of the Treaty to the status of a “simple nullity”; Hobson’s Pledge have recalled Hobson’s statement He iwi kotahi tatou as a reminder that the Treaty was supposed to unite rather than divide us. And yet the cause of separatism marches on.
The separatism agenda is an extension of the treaty claims process which, if “full and final” is to be taken at face value, should by now have pretty much run its course. Separatism is the antithesis of democracy; its aim is the transfer of ever-increasing wealth and power into the hands of those who claim to represent some 15% of the population. It is to be understood as New Zealand’s version of apartheid.
Central to the separatist agenda is the notion that the Treaty created a partnership between two equal parties: a) Maori, and b) the Crown, representing everyone else. Paradoxically, the separatist agenda uses the language of inclusion; we are encouraged to acquiesce in the separatist agenda as a means of promoting “participation” and “partnership”. Yet increasingly, we find ourselves divided into two camps with those identified as Maori having separate educational requirements and funding, separate health needs and entitlements, separate electoral provisions, separate course admission entitlements, to name but a few. Even individuals find themselves separatised, with focus on their Maori ancestry and virtual denial of what is commonly their majority (usually British) heritage.
How has an entire society become conditioned to acquiesce in this agenda or, at least, learn not to dare openly challenge it?
First came the “inclusive” notion that there should be a “Maori dimension” to all things. I recall being told, in the early 1990’s, that all subjects in the Secondary Curriculum were to have a Maori dimension. When told that I was expected to demonstrate a Maori dimension for the French language (which I was teaching) my reaction was: “Don’t be so bl….y stupid.” Most of my colleagues, however, appeared to comply. Now we find Sir Jerry Mateparae calling for a Maori dimension to be assured in the oversight of Health research and Stephen Franks warning that any legal academic who speaks out against the inclusion of tikanga within our legal system may be compromising his/her future employment.
Next came the replacement of everyday expressions in our English language with Maori terms. The words “family” and “children” are disappearing from current use, more and more print communications open with Kia ora and end with Nga mihi, and even TV1’s Andrew Saville has acquired one sentence in Maori which he laboriously recites nightly before getting down to the evening’s Sports News.
The mental conditioning involved in accepting that Maori terminology is increasingly part of New Zealand’s English language creates a climate of acceptance for the practice of having iwi appointees on advisory bodies that influence almost every aspect of our lives. The ODT’s columnist, Jim Sullivan, recently expressed tongue-in-cheek surprise that there is, as yet, no iwi nominee on the Broadcasting Standards Authority; how did they miss out?
Finally, in late 2019, the end game emerged via a blatant challenge to our democracy. On behalf of the Canterbury Regional Council, Rino Tirikatene introduced a Local Bill to the House aimed at empowering Ngai Tahu to appoint its own unelected members to ECan. With National ACT and NZ First opposed, the Bill failed at its First Reading in 2020, but it is a sobering thought that, had it been introduced a year later, it would have been passed leaving Ngai Tahu, a major owner of dairy farms, having unelected power within the body that controls the nation’s greatest freshwater resource.
It is clear that the separatist agenda will not settle for token representation. Over a decade ago, Peter/Pita Sharples, as co-leader of the Maori Party, openly stated that the Westminster system of democracy was not suited to New Zealand’s (or rather iwi’s) needs, and it is now apparent that those claiming to represent only 15% of the population aim at no less than 50% of political power.
What is to be done in the face of this threat?
Thus far, the most obvious success in opposing the advance of separatism has come via the forcing of referenda that have rejected the imposition of Maori Wards in local authorities; that success was however the cause of its own undoing. For it was the Establishment that had enabled petitions calling for referenda to occur and, when the Establishment found that those petitions were blocking the Establishment’s own agenda, it was the easiest of things to change the rules.
What has been achieved by other means such as the writing/publishing of books exposing the nation’s drift towards apartheid? If Tross Publications’ “Twisting the Treaty” (2014) could not rouse the public against separatism, no publication will; it didn’t.
What, then, of plans to capture the balance of political power? In the lead-up to the 2017 election, there was great hope that, if NZ First could capture the balance of power, they would lead a charge against separatism. That happened; they didn’t. For the 2020 election, New Conservatives had strong anti-separatist policy but kept it largely hidden. It is now highly unlikely that any political party will overtly challenge iwi-led separatism until it is obvious that such policy, doomed in advance to media hostility, would nevertheless enjoy an election-winning level of support. Demonstrating that level of public support is the challenge that now faces all groups opposed to race-based separatism.
Such organisations have thus far failed to mobilise obvious and significant opposition to the separatist agenda. Only when such opposition is mobilised are political parties likely to respond to it with appropriate policy. They want to win elections, not champion causes. What is needed is an organisation with a central co-ordinating and resourcing structure linked to local activist groups that can contest issues as they arise. With all anti-separatist groups that have formed thus far based in the North Island, it should not be overlooked that some of the greatest prizes are being pursued by Ngai Tahu in the South.
While we await the emergence of such an organisation, what is the concerned individual to do?
Obviously, we should continue to go through the motions of supporting petitions calling for public ownership of the coast, etc. and of continuing to make submissions opposing such proposals as the new woke History syllabus for schools and the imposition of a wahi tapu as currently in the Queenstown Lakes District. However, we need not delude ourselves into imagining that the Establishment will take the slightest notice of even a massive majority view opposed to its agenda.
In order to impact on that agenda, we need to impact on the prevailing public mood, and, in order to do that, we need to start impacting on the practices that have created that public mood. To a fair degree, that comes down to the use of language for, as was pointed out in a recent NZCPR article, George Orwell observed that he/she who controls language controls the mind.
There is no need for someone to start a communication with Kia ora and conclude with Nga mihi; it is a choice. We too can decide to do likewise in a language of our choosing. Being of Scottish descent, I use Gaelic and have armed myself with an arsenal of terms that cover most situations. Government departments and local bodies are prime targets for a bit of Gaelic. Of course, on my own, I have no impact, but if a few thousand individuals followed suit, it would become apparent that this is a multi-cultural society not bi-cultural with Maori as the default cultural identity for everyone.
Recently, a small number of objectors advised Vodafone of their intention to switch to another provider as a result of the firm’s decision to rename itself as “Vodafone Aotearoa”. Vodafone’s reaction was a mocking Haere ra. This, as I found with the DCC, is the likely outcome when an individual challenges a large organisation. A challenge by individuals to the gratuitous Maorification of our language is more likely to be effective in the field of charitable donations / memberships. Most organisations who solicit donations seem to stick to English; for those that do not, I have a one-page explanation (here) as to why this has resulted in their receiving no donation. After being a member for over three decades, I recently resigned my membership of Forest and Bird after the CEO wished me Merry Christmas in Maori in 2019 and 2020, advising (here) that I found this culturally offensive. Another organisation to which I annually donate around $700 appears to have reverted to English-only communications rather than lose my donation, so this would appear to be a field in which only a few hundred individuals could have quite an impact. Cleansing the charitable sector of divisive language use is an achievable goal for individuals if all concerned individuals take action.
Last year, I found myself chatting to a very personable chap at a Petanque tournament; he told me he had played the game from an early age having grown up in Vanuatu and added, “I speak French”. To which I replied, “Et moi aussi.” This came as a surprise and, ever since, when we meet up we switch to his first language, he knowing that I speak it easily. This is an appropriate use of a language other than English. The systematic imposition of Maori phrases completely out of cultural context is something quite different. It underpins a wider political agenda, but it is open to challenge by individuals as a starting point in making effective opposition to that agenda.
It is not difficult to withhold donations / membership fees and explain why no money is forthcoming, and it is not difficult to respond in Gaelic or some other language to endless tokenist salutations in Maori. Language has been used to underpin the imposition of a separatist agenda but language can equally be used to symbolise growing opposition to it and thus encourage wider action in defence of our democracy. While we await the emergence of an organisation capable of co-ordinating large-scale opposition to race-based separatism, individuals can nevertheless make an impact by challenging the practice of social conditioning through language. This is something we can all DO!
Bi làidir (= stay strong)
John Bell is a former secondary teacher with grass-roots political experience including in the National Party and PPTA.