There, “Iwi of the Whanganui River expect a new strategy will reform resource management in the catchment. … Te Heke Ngahuru ki Te Awa Tupua, which was unveiled on Friday, was released for consultation by Te Kopuka na Te Awa Tupua, a 17-member strategy group made up of iwi, central government, mayors and council leadership, and industry and sector interests. …
It starts with reforming the way we interact with one another, and that interaction is now through the kawa (Maori law and ethos) of the river, with hapu and iwi leading its adoption.”
It’s quite a line-up, this strategy group. But nothing gets done. The description is of nine years of talk: “Four years in the making, the long-term strategy sets the direction for activities in the river catchment. … the next five years would focus on investment, community engagement and building action plans.”
There is no definition of what is wrong, of the issues facing the river, nothing creative, practical or useful. Nor any idea of what could then be done or what this supposed ‘Maori law and ethos’ of the river’ is. It is easy to imagine a group of perhaps six people – experts and locals familiar with the river (no what ethnicity) – meeting for a morning to come up with a clear prescription of the challenges and an action plan. But this complicated set-up, with its Maori dominance, is just expensive time-wasting, with no output and nothing concrete under way.
So much could be done if only this country could shake itself free from grievance and the imposed belief in past wrongs of colonisation, now far in the past, and open up to freedom of speech (removing the gag on mainstream media with the requirement to bend down to a completely invented, rewritten ‘tiriti’).
In so many areas, a willingness to consider the facts (free from ideological assumptions) can provide a guide towards a realistic understanding and an awareness that can lead to action on sometimes complex problems. Consider, for example, poverty, differences in life expectancy, family and youth violence. These are all linked, not by ‘colonisation’ but by the changes in overall government policy direction introduced during the years following 1984 by first the David Lange – Roger Douglas Labour Government and then by the Jim Bolger – Ruth Richardson National Government. New Zealand moved from a balanced, mixed economy towards the free market, the sale of public enterprises and free trade.
The resulting widening of class differences can be followed through statistics, which here in New Zealand relate to Maori experiences, with so many Maori belonging to the working class following the great movement to the cities following the Second World War.
The difference in life expectancy between Maori and non-Maori had been decreasing steadily from 20 years in 1940 to 5 years around 1984, with trends pointing to an end to any such difference around 2000, but the increasing poverty of those difficult years resulted in a reversal of trend and the difference widened to around 7-9 years.
The fact of the long-term trend and the significant change following Government policy is ignored with a simplistic claim that “Our health and disability system has underperformed for Maori for too long – life expectancy is seven years less than for Pakeha”. That claim has been introduced to support the division of the health service by ethnicity, in line with the disruptive government policy of co-governance.
In those years unemployment increased to over 10% for all men – and to 40% among young Maori men, a whole generation of struggling youngsters. Those failing to earn a decent income were failures in the marriage market, and the Domestic Purposes Benefit allowed young women to raise children without a partner, so that 40-45% of young children then lived in sole parent families. Much of the family structure broke down; too many young men were not able to feel they belonged as fathers. The increase in family violence, and the recent upsurge of juvenile crime, were inevitable consequences. That complex pattern is ignored with the focus only on simplistic ideas of failure of the health system or supposed wrongs of colonisation.
The fragmentation of society has increasingly involved division into ‘indigenous’ Maori and all others. This has destroyed any national feeling of the self-esteem and ‘self-actualization’, human needs which are basic the sense of belonging that we all desire. As we are no longer one people, that fundamental support has gone, resulting in the downturn in health and the failure of too many families.
Many studies of human needs have led to the clear conclusion that belonging is key, and this can only be satisfied if the individual is valued as part of a social group. Here is a typical list of issues, defined for the World Health Organisation.
- Productivity and sufficient resources to enable people to eat and to be educated.
- A sense of community responsibility and involvement.
- A functioning community organisation.
- Self-sufficiency in all important matters such as reliance on outside resources only for emergencies.
- An understanding of the uniqueness of each community coupled with the individual and group pride and dignity associated with it.
- The feeling that people have of a true unity between their land, their work and their household.
Too many New Zealanders lack a place where they belong. Disgruntled youth, brought up with the belief in racial division, having been taught that Maori are a people wronged, a separate race not part of the whole society. That separatism, of being part of a race apart, is embedded in the education system and the mainstream media. With such an upbringing they feel no kinship with others, such as Asian shopkeepers. That’s why many, quite sensibly, decide to join a gang.
Others, too, non-Maori, have the feeling of belonging to their land ripped away as resources are taken by Maori. There is no sense of belonging either within Maori or for the wider society. Only unity can give us all what we need for a good life; the universal belonging that is a key consequence of equality.
This is the meaning of the joy expressed by Martin Luther King when he was looking forward to a better life of unity in his “I Have a Dream” speech during the 1963 civil rights March on Washington, with its triumphant conclusion celebrating a future time when equality is achieved: “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
Here in New Zealand, we are held captive by the millstone of racism, of separate identity, which destroying our belief in being one people together, all belonging to this sovereign nation. This is dividing us, harming health and social well-being, failing to give us a sense of belonging, and holding back freedom of thought, the ability to see clearly where we are, and the competence to identify and solve problems without complicated among government agencies and tribes.
The result is a failing society. Once free of separation by race, we too could celebrate the freedom to join together and get things done. There is such a multiplicity of damage done by New Zealand’s modern apartheid. The disease has invaded the whole body.
We are capable of so much better than the messy talk-fest of the Wanganui River, with its nine years of chatter rather than identification of any problems and prompt solution. What is needed is to get clear of the confining straightjacket forced on us by the ideology of race.
POST SCRIPT: I have just been listening to a discussion between Muriel Newman and Rodney Hide, where they cover many of the recent moves towards racial division that are taking national attention and effort away from critical issues to the extensive and costly breaking up of New Zealand. One such is the hundreds of court cases, followed by appeals, as iwi across the country carve up the foreshore and seabed amongst themselves – robbed away from all other New Zealanders, so that that our land, our water, no longer belongs to us all. The cost in judges and court officials (paid for from the public purse), lawyers, experts and consultants on all sides is considerable. Too many intelligent people are squabbling over the divisiveness brought by when the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Act 2011 replaced the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004. The country would benefit if only those many people had committed well-educated careers to real problems. The drain on the country is enormous.
 Health and Disability Review Transition Unit 2021 https://dpmc.govt.nz/sites/default/files/2021-04/htu-factsheet-hauora-maori-en-apr21.pdf
 One such list based on the hierarchy of needs formulated by psychologist Abraham Maslow includes Belongingness and love needs (family and social group membership). Robinson J 1989, ‘Excess capital’, Chapter 2.
 Newell K W 1975, ‘Health by the People’, World Health Organisation; quoted in Robinson J 1989, ‘Excess capital’, Chapter 2.
Dr John Robinson is a research scientist, who has investigated a variety of topics, including the social statistics of Maori. His recognition of fundamental flaws in the interpretation of nineteenth century Maori demographics led him to consider the history of those times in several books.