The focus of the draft curriculum on only this one group, with the claim that “Maori history forms a continuous thread, directly linking the contemporary world to the past”, denigrates the significance of the experiences of all other New Zealanders. Pupils, of diverse backgrounds in a multicultural society, should all be included, and taught the history of us all – including their own ancestors whether Maori or other.
Maori should stop posturing (yes, I have read He Puapua ) and take their place as equals with the rest of us. This ethnic exceptionalism is nonsensical and damaging to our New Zealand community.
The first section in this submission raises basic questions
concerning the emphasis on matauranga Maori and the emphasis on oral
story-telling rather than written historical accounts. Note is made of the comprehensive cultural
Maori transformation around the period 1830-1850, and thereafter, and thus the
subsequent uncertainty of what is meant by matauranga Maori, which provides a
smokescreen for control by priests of the modern movement, those few who make
claim to some hidden understanding – and who must then be employed to provide
orders to all others.
The second section deals with some features of the suggested
curriculum, with a critical analysis of the narrow and inaccurate predetermined
picture suggested. I deal here with
questions concerning Maori history in reaction to the draft submission and not
because this should be the one focus of a history curriculum – it should not.
The third, and perhaps the most pertinent, section notes the
growing presence of a way of thinking that shuts out open debate and creates a
closed mindset, a form of groupthink, a narrow ideology or paradigmatic
perception which drives towards a distorted account of history.
The obvious conclusion is to reject this fatally flawed curriculum draft. Set it aside and take a few years for the dust to settle before any revision of history curriculum, apolitical and professional, within the Ministry of Education.
This land is our land.
All of us. National history is
the story of all of us.
That should be so.
But, here, it is not. This
proposed education curriculum makes that clear, with an insistence on one
particular culture claiming an inherited dominant position, to the denigration
of all others. The aim is clear: “If we
want to shape Aotearoa New Zealand’s future, start with our past.” This group, which is far from representative
of New Zealand’s multicultural population, has stated an intention to educate
our children in a narrow view of the past, to help to guide our collective
future in the modern, interconnected twenty-first century towards separation
(often hidden behind the theme of ‘partnership’, which implies clearly two
The one focus is repeated many times, “Maori history is the
foundational and continuous history of Aotearoa New Zealand”, to the exclusion
of the many others. One culture in a
multicultural nation is the only one to be considered.
The resulting direction for education is also repeated many
times, with the instruction for a presentation “with deliberate attention to
matauranga Maori to help answer questions about the past”.
This can only be understood with some awareness of what is
meant by matauranga Maori. Some sources
refer to an unchanging culture, inherited from ancestors through the
centuries. This is problematic at best;
after all, pre-contact Maori society was characterised by widespread warfare,
with slavery and cannibalism. There was
no central authority, no rule of law, with conflict resolution often by
Maori culture has been transformed, for the most part by the
efforts of Maori themselves, since the arrival of Europeans and then further
people from all parts of the world. In
recognition of such changes, other sources present a considerably different
version of Maori culture. The intent of the curriculum draft is a
presentation of history based on a set of precepts that are entirely unclear, to
guide the thinking of the students and the fundamental beliefs of the nation –
with considerable political implications.
Control is passed to the gatekeepers who will determine the meaning of
these words. There is no longer national
unity within a multicultural society joined by common laws, clear and well
understood by all.
Matauranga Maori describes a tribal society. Whakapapa, loyalty to the extended family,
calls for special attention to relatives, with others in a secondary role. Rangatiratanga refers to chiefly rule and
introduces Maori class differences. Utu
asks for revenge; the new definition of reciprocity retains the principle of a
first loyalty to the tribe, and the requirement for utu has historically led to
increased conflict between such related groups.
These ideas clash with the principles of modern civilisation, and are
dangerous within national government.
Matauranga and tikanga refer to Maori knowledge, beliefs and
way of life. All have changed
considerably, and fundamentally, since the formation of New Zealand. While many Maori became Christian, many have
held to the old beliefs in atua, a supernatural being or spirit. Here, we do not know what is intended to be
taught. In New Zealand, education of
children is intended to be universal, free and secular. Any such inclusion would contradict widely
accepted principles of education in a multicultural society. As throughout this draft curriculum, the
uncertainties and lack of clarity ring alarm bells.
One such is the insistence on a prime position for oral
accounts. We are well aware that stories
evolve and change over time, to become myth and legend, and that a version of a
historical account will depend critically on the attitude of a particular
community. Add oral story-telling to
the demands of tribal whakapapa and distortions are guaranteed.
It is generally accepted that an accurate account of history
must be based on information that has been built up principally by written
material, this being more trustworthy than stories which so often become myth
and legend. Oral accounts may enrich an
understanding of a community, but cannot form the core of a historical account,
which must be based on established facts.
“How would we know of past events if it they had never been documented? Even the stories and myths of ancient
cultures, many of which relied heavily on the oral tradition, were subject to
intense transformations after years of repetition. Writing, therefore, is what propels
information and ideas into permanence, or what are customarily referred to as
'the annals of history’.” 
That simple observation refutes the emphasis in the draft curriculum on the telling of stories – such an approach should be secondary to well-researched material, based on observations and reports at or close to the events considered, written down and available so that it is possible to evaluate the authenticity and accuracy of source materials
Around 6,000 years ago, people moved from the
Asian continent and outlying islands to the east, reaching islands to the
northwest of Australia. Then, 4,000
years ago some travelled on to the west to the islands scattered across the
wide Pacific, with the tribal cultures of those times. The last significant land mass to be settled
was New Zealand, around 1200 AD (that date is widely disputed).
In those several millennia, huge changes were
taking place in the vast Eurasian landmass, from Japan and China, across to the
steppes and India, to Arabia and Europe.
There were channels of contact and information was shared, over time.
The majority of humanity gained from
considerable advances in knowledge, understanding and capabilities – there was
the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, the invention of writing, the wheel, many
domesticated animals and diverse crops, the development of systems of law and
governance on a national scale, and much more.
When the ships of Europeans, principally the
British, appeared in the 18th century, Maori were faced with a
completely different and far advanced civilisation. Ignoring the rest of the world, as proposed
in the draft curriculum, robs even Maori history of its context, and of its
place in the story of mankind. That was
an extraordinary meeting of two very different peoples, a story which tells of
the formation of the nation.
One unfortunate effect was the spread of
already-existing Maori tribal warfare, accompanied by the increasing use of
imported muskets. The death toll was
enormous and the Maori population plummeted in a clearly dysfunctional society. Some
Maori leaders recognised that something had to be done.
The contacts with missionaries and settlers,
along with a growing desire to escape from the requirements of tikanga which
served to expand conflict, resulted in the transformation of Maori culture, for
the most part in the several decades from 1830 on. Many began to attend Christian services.
A key feature of the Maori cultural transformation (which
brought the great peace-making, the freeing of slaves, the end to cannibalism,
the end to female infanticide and the beginning of a demographic recovery,
changes that must not be written out of history) was the decision to ask for,
and to celebrate, British colonisation – which was realised by the signing of
the Treaty of Waitangi. This treaty was
a simple and clear document handing sovereignty to the British Crown and making
all New Zealanders, of whatever ethnicity, British subjects. British law and government applied
henceforth. That change, brought about
by both Maori and the British authorities, put an end to the disruption and
collapse of Maori society.
There was one treaty – the final English text that was then
translated into Maori has been identified and is known as the ‘Littlewood
treaty’. All translations from Maori to
English accord with that draft, from those of 1840 and the next few years to
that of Apirana Ngata in 1922. Yet, the
draft submission makes the claim that: “There are two versions of the treaty –
Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the Treaty of Waitangi. Some key words and phrases are
different between the two versions.” The
document that is there called the Treaty of Waitangi, and is sometimes referred
to as ‘the English treaty’, is a poorly written and contradictory suggestion
(draft or translation) written by Hobson’s secretary, James Freeman, and
forwarded by him to Australia and then Britain while Hobson was
incapacitated. An objective education
programme would report those facts.
The discussion of colonisation is similarly
ill-informed. The claim is that
“Colonisation began as part of a worldwide imperial project”, whereas the
government of Britain did not want to colonise New Zealand until problems with
settlers, the pressure of the New Zealand Company, and requests for help from
northern Maori chiefs forced their hand.
There is also the false claim that colonisation continues now: “In its
varying forms, colonisation ... continues to evolve.” The age of colonisation is in fact long past
and New Zealand has long been a sovereign self-governing nation.
The current Maori claim (expressed throughout this draft
curriculum) that their ancestors had a superior culture and world view, which
was severely damaged by colonisation, is false.
The change was led by the many Maori who appreciated the benefits of the
advanced civilisation they were coming in contact with. Two major features of the contact period are:
the backwardness of Maori society (which was also in a disrupted period of
widespread tribal war), and the considerable intelligence and acuity of many chiefs
as they adapted, and adopted the introduced advances. Yes, they belonged to an ancient, tribal
society, but that did not mean that they belonged to an inferior race, or were
incapable of making use of introduced skills.
As always, it is plain that we belong to a common humanity and not to
separate racial groups. Any reference to
a ‘Maori race’, as in New Zealand law, is nonsense. The modern insistence by Maori that they are
a separate (‘indigenous’) people is simply a political ploy for power and
A history of the formation and development of New Zealand
should include the stories of the many remarkable people in those times of
great change. I have written of Tamati Waka Nene and Apirana Ngata;
a short list would certainly include Te Wherowhero, initially a savage warrior,
then a friend of Governor Grey and peaceful supporter of the government, who
became the first Maori king, taking the name Potatau. Accounts of those extraordinary lives would
illuminate early national history and raise the interests of the pupils.
The king movement and the subsequent struggle deserves a
comprehensive treatment, not the simplistic suggestion that: “New Zealand’s
settler government and the Crown were determined to undermine mana Maori,
especially by acquiring Maori territories. The New Zealand Wars and the
legislation that followed demonstrated their willingness to do this by any
means.” The government, under both
Governor Brown and Governor Grey made great efforts to work with Waikato Maori,
and were commencing to provide the facilities requested by Te Wherowhero (the
year before he was called king) when
their representatives were driven out by Rewi Maniapoto (who, after the war,
became a friend of Grey). There was no
general agreement on the king movement in the Waikato (with no consensus in
meetings of 1857 and 1858) and many chiefs there, as across the country,
refuted any effort to prevent them from selling land when they wished.
It is a nonsense to suggest a complete focus on Maori when
so much of New Zealand history relates to the many other cultures with their
knowledge and ways of life brought from across the world, in particular – but
not only – British know-how and principles of good government.
These notes point to the need to refuse the applied straightjacket confining New Zealand history to Maori history, and to refuse the insistence on confining Maori history to a narrow and inaccurate picture.
I have worked for several decades for many national and
international organisations on interdisciplinary futures research. Much of this work has been based on scenario
analysis, which had as a central feature the consideration of a number of
possible futures, with each defined by some set of policy choices, each being
guided by a particular paradigm. I have
come to recognise the importance of paradigm, world view, ideology and dominant
culture (including the ‘conventional wisdom’ of any one time) in guiding and
defining a way of thinking, together with the policies and actions that result.
I have come to recognise that many have become caught up in
such a paradigm, including a distorted vision of New Zealand and its history,
which has led to separatism, so that we are no longer one people, but are seen
as two different people, with two very different cultures and sets of beliefs. These two groups, the Maori and the other,
are defined explicitly in law by race, as ‘a Maori is a member of the Maori
race’. The two are separated, with
different rights in a legal ‘partnership’.
This is, quite simply, racism.
The contradictions and problems arising, the deep divisions in rights,
are recognised by many, but denied by the current Government and by many Maori
leaders. This steady movement to
separation by race must be corrected so that we can once again become one
people in law and in government, no longer with a need to identify ourselves as
belonging to one race or another.
The power of such a control group has been commented on in
the introductory note of the draft curriculum: “Aotearoa New Zealand’s history
has been shaped by the exercise and effects of power. Individuals, groups and
organizations have exerted and contested power. This idea is about
understanding the ways that power has been used to improve the lives of people
and communities, and in ways that have created damage, injustice and conflict.”
This is all too true today.
The writers and proponents of this proposed curriculum must look in the
mirror, and recognise that these words described the current way that power is
being used, by themselves, to create “damage, injustice and conflict”, with
great accuracy. Powerful groups are
continuing to separate New Zealanders by race, with the intent of creating a
fully divided nation by 2040 (He Puapua is the most recent, and most
eloquent, statement of that intention).
We are on the edge of serious social disruption, with a
social movement that has driven New Zealand to formal separatism and racism,
which is now increasingly referred to, correctly, as a form of apartheid. This education curriculum is one of many
efforts to extend such division, which has been set up over the past 40 years
The state supports, and promulgates, this separation, these
feelings of grievance and past wrongs, and this herd mentality where so much
discussion takes place in communities separate from other New Zealanders. The Waitangi Tribunal, which has been
actively rewriting New Zealand history, and is driven by a belief in past
wrongs together with supposed wrongs of colonialism (with any counter argument
promptly silenced), provides a forum for dissatisfied Maori to sit aside from
the rest of us to build a collective view of discontent. This can be in Waitangi Tribunal hearings
(where only Maori may participate) and by other organised meetings (hui) for
Maori across the country, where those who attend share complaints and build a
picture of past and continuing injustice, without the benefit of any different
viewpoint or any check on facts, an evaluation the authenticity and accuracy of
To speak this truth, to identify this racism, is damaging to
career and position – many speaking against racial separation have been falsely
labelled as racist. In today’s New
Zealand, freedom of speech is only available to those with nothing to lose,
such as those with no position or career to protect, mostly towards the end of
our lives. I am retired and fit those
requirements, while others I know keep their heads down.
I fear that the effort will have no effect, such is the
power of the elite and the domination of a belief in wrongdoing and grievance,
which then dealt with by increasing inequality. “The exercise and effects of power” referred
to will assure this sad division, to continue to deny the once precious belief
that we are all born equal, with no distinction by a proclaimed racial identity
(‘a Maori is a member of the Maori race’, in law), no special inherited rights,
and no division and partnership of two very unequal people in a divided nation.
We should not be split along race lines but we are, a sad
reality that must be faced and overcome by recovering the facts, the truth of
our national history. The proposed
education curriculum provides a narrow and inaccurate prescription for future
teaching, which is directed towards an increase in separation of New Zealanders
into two peoples, with two different pasts and two unequal roles in the social
affairs and government of our country.
There is a need for the very opposite – for national unity and a
celebration of common humanity in an interconnected twenty-first century
This is unacceptable.
The draft curriculum reads like a polemic for a cause, and does not
provide a syllabus for national education in the history of an entire country.
The proposal is fatally flawed and must be rejected in its entirety.
 Comments on He Puapua are included in a new
edition (2021) of my book on tikanga.
 John Robinson 2019. Dividing a nation, the return to tikanga.
 Richard Marius and Melvin E. Page. A short guide
to writing about history
 John Robinson 2012. When two cultures meet, the New Zealand
experience. Tross Publishing
 John Robinson 2020. Unrestrained
slaughter, the Maori musket wars 1800-1840. Tross Publishing
John Robinson 2015. Two great New Zealanders,
Tamati Waka Nene and Apirana Ngata. Tross Publishing
John Robinson 2016. The kingite rebellion. Tross
 with two subsequent publications, both available free
on Smashwords online: Excess capital 1989 and A
plague of people, how a suicidal culture of growth is destroying modern society
and the environment 2013.