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Is the colonisation narrative dangerous for New Zealand, as an opinion article last week by Philip Temple suggests? Kim Cope Tait disagrees.
Kia ora koutou katoa. I must start with an admission: I am not Maori, or even a New Zealand Pakeha. I am the partner of a Ngati Porou-Scottish man and am mostly just grateful that I have been received in Aotearoa during such a turbulent time for the world. Of mixed ancestry myself, I too carry the blood of the colonised, along with that of the coloniser. Though it may sound harsh to say it like that, there is no avoiding the truth of it. And honestly, language does matter.
Colonisation is a fact. And it doesn’t only refer to the moment of contact between a colonising entity and the indigenous population. There is no "sweet spot" in that process, because it is an ongoing phenomenon. The "colonisation narrative" refers to a much larger sort of matrix that undeniably permeates the entire structure of society and is derived from a history of colonising acts . . . ones that typically attempt to mute, if not eradicate, the indigenous population because it seems to threaten the expansion of the colonising population’s objectives.
It refers to continuously introduced legislation with euphemistic names like the Maori Representation Act (1867), the Maori Affairs Act (1953) and the Treaty of Waitangi (Removal of Conflict of Interest) Amendment Bill (2007). All of this legislation has effectively diminished Maori autonomy and freedom to own and manage their land the way they choose, as well as limited the Maori voice in New Zealand government. In the space of time between 1840 and 1975, Maori-owned land was reduced from 26,870,000 hectares to a mere 1,200,000.
People don’t know about these things. It’s not their fault. The current effort of the Ministry of Education to revamp the national history curriculum in public schools is a reflection of their acknowledgement that denying such truths of one’s history is (at best) undesirable. It represents an effort to make reparation for the ways that such omissions have, not necessarily intentionally, imposed and reinforced barriers to Maori progress. The call for decolonisation then is not, as this dismissive article says, "a lazy way of throwing rocks at Pakeha or ‘‘Western’’ culture" but rather an emphatic plea for the recognition of the inequity that exists as a result of a history of colonising acts.
The fact is that colonisation itself is dangerous, not the perpetuation of its narrative. Colonisation violates all parties, the members of the colonising culture included. Kudos to the New Zealand Ministry of Education for taking a step in the direction of addressing these omissions with a revised history curriculum. Again, the effort itself supports the argument that colonisation is an issue that exists and must be examined. Not reacted to in a violent way (as in the perhaps misguided efforts of the single Maori activist group that in their desperation burned down the Rangiatea Church at Otaki 26 years ago) but addressed in a way that offers a corrective experience in shaping not just the view of the Maori people but of their relationship to the tauiwi.
The word tauiwi is used to distinguish the group of New Zealand tangata who do not come from and have never identified with a Maori tribe. I do believe one would be hard-pressed to find anyone of European descent who identifies with their own tribe, so far removed are they from the period of their tribal existence. But if one did, I do believe every Maori I know would be interested and happy to acknowledge that tribe. Tribal affiliation is at the heart of whanaungatanga. I have seen this in the interest and respect paid to me and my own First Nations affiliation.
To appeal to the readers of the ODT with the fact that "Pakeha have whakapapa too" is almost akin to responding to the rally cry that "Black Lives Matter" with the statement that "All Lives Matter." They do. It’s true. But all lives are not under fire. All lives are not being violated and brutalised by the police force in the United States. Black lives are. The statement that "Black Lives Matter" does not preclude the "mattering" of other lives. And to say that Maori lives, Maori concerns, must be honoured (say when we look at the statistics around the disproportionate number of Maori and Pacific Islander inmates in New Zealand prisons or the shockingly disproportionate number of Maori and Pacific Islander people living in poverty and losing their youth to suicide) is not to suggest that Pakeha lives and concerns shouldn’t. It just means that Maori concerns should not be ignored and swept into the shadow of the concerns of the over-culture, as they have been too often and for too long.
I must agree with Dr Temple when he states that: "We need to celebrate all our whakapapa, all of the values and cultures that form this special nation." Nothing could be truer. But this in no way negates the importance of acknowledging that colonisation has played, and continues to play, a huge role in shaping this nation, as it has so many nations around the globe. "Kaua e rangiruatia te ha o te hoe e kore to tatou waka e u ki uta." Indeed, "Do not lift the paddle out of unison or our waka will never reach the shore."
We just need to make sure that everyone’s got a paddle.
- Kim Cope Tait is an educator of rangatahi in the youth justice system here in Otepoti. She keeps a blog at www.kimcopetait.com, and she has three published novels and a collection of poetry entitled Shadow Tongue.