In recent times, it has become common practice to commence a communication to someone with Kia ora and conclude with Nga mihi or some other expression in the Maori language. This now appears to be standard practice in communications from Government Departments, state-funded institutions like schools, community organisations and even some public companies such as Contact Energy.
The body of the communication remains in English for the good reason that the writer intended it to be understood. Why, then, a salutation and conclusion in Maori?
At the end of 2019, the CEO of Forest and Bird even went as far as to wish supporters Merry Christmas and Happy New Year in Maori despite the fact that Christmas is a European Christian festival and Matariki is in the middle of the year. Has the language that served Shakespeare, Shelley, Keats, Wordsworth, Tennyson et al. so well suddenly become inadequate for beginning and ending a letter?
The obvious implication is that Maori culture and Maori language are imbued with a spirituality and mysticism that is absent from Anglo-European culture and hence cannot possibly be expressed in English. This is a premise of te ao maori - the Maori “world view” - and, whether knowingly or not, those who choose to change language for the opening and closing of a communication, are subscribing to that “world view”. Otherwise, why not stick to English?
What matters is not the seemingly harmless use of a few phrases in a different language at the start and end of a communication, but the “world view” being endorsed. Maori perspectives and spirituality reflect but one of many cultural traditions in our multi-cultural society, but a political agenda is alive and well seeking to impose te ao maori as a sort of default setting on the whole of society. From finding it necessary to switch to te reo maori in order to begin and end a communication, it is but a small step to accepting that te ao maori should be part of the thinking involved in all policy and decision-making, even in the private sector.
Once that notion is accepted, it is but another short step to accepting the notion that those who possess te ao maori (i.e. iwi nominees) should have access to decision-making at local, regional and national level without needing to go through the democratic process of election upon which our free society is constructed. Indeed, Peter/Pita Sharples, when co-leader of the Maori Party, expressed the view that the Westminster system of government (i.e. full democracy) was not suited to New Zealand’s circumstances. Hence the growing practice of granting unelected iwi nominees access to local and regional government and the developing perspective that, at national level, the country should be governed via a “partnership” between the Crown and Maori.
Locally, the impact of te ao maori can be seen in the acceptance by the Queenstown Lakes District Council of the perception that the entire region is Ngai Tahu “ancestral land” and in the current proposal that significant parts of the region have wahi tupuna status requiring a cultural impact report (at a cost) from the iwi in association with any resource consent.
Thus far, many people appear unaware of and/or unconcerned at the spread of such race-based power and influence. It does, however, concern me. As an individual, I am, of course, powerless to resist an agenda that has been embraced by government at all levels and by large sections of the media. I am not, nevertheless, willing to contribute to it by donating money to organisations who choose to indulge in social conditioning via the gratuitous use of phrases in te reo maori. The agenda that is underpinned by this practice is one that I will not endorse.
John Bell is a former secondary teacher with grass-roots political experience including in the National Party and PPTA.