The past few days has been one of those occasions when Hawke’s Bay had almost too much on offer — a major conference on the relationship between Maori and local government, the Te Mata Peak clean-up, the 10th anniversary of the Hastings Farmers Market, the Hospice Holly Trail, Kai in the Bay: the Maori & Wild Food Festival, Central Hawke’s Bay’s A&P Show, and The Wildflower Sculpture Exhibition. And I’m sure I’ll be offending someone by not mentioning more events that didn’t cross my radar.
For my part, with nineteen others I spent two days in an intensive Treaty of Waitangi Workshop, conducted by Robert Consedine under the auspices of the Napier Pilot City Trust. Robert (with his daughter Joanna) is author of the acclaimed book, Healing Our History.
His knowledge of New Zealand history in general; the events, decisions, agendas and differing cultural perspectives that have shaped Pakeha/Maori relationships; and the external dynamics of colonization that provided the context for all that transpired, is truly remarkable. As was his ability, from years of conducting such workshops throughout New Zealand, to lead a very diverse group of twenty individuals through an interactive process that proved immensely revealing and valuable to each one of us.
With only six years under my belt of observing Maori and Pakeha relations — at interpersonal, local government and societal levels — I confess that I went to this workshop with two main, and overly simple, perceptions shaping my thinking.
First, a sense that an almost “academic” preoccupation with the distant past distracts vitally needed attention and energies from dealing with immediate and real problems of the present and future — especially indisputable economic, social, and health inequities.
Second, a sense that the “ceremonial” nods toward Maori language and culture in many public settings — a Maori prayer or haka before an event, singing the national anthem in two languages, a welcoming powhiri — disguise a more fundamental resistance to embracing aspects of Maori culture (and aspirations) that might represent more of a challenge to the “dominant” Pakeha culture (“dominant” only in political and economic terms, and population numbers, not in any intrinsic sense).
Both of my perceptions were affected by the workshop.
Having now swum in the swirling waters of “Kawanatanga” versus “Rangitiratanga”, I am still resistant to the notion that arguments over who understood (and agreed to) what should drive New Zealand’s march into the 21st century.
However, I — and I would confidently say every other participant — was stunned by the tangible, undeniable record of what actually happened in terms of official government action after the Treaty was signed and the surge of colonial immigration into New Zealand began. Literally hundreds of laws were adopted — 560 between 1865 and 1909, and more than 100 thereafter — that were indisputably designed to methodically confiscate Maori land, get it into Pakeha hands, and eradicate Maori culture.There’s nothing academic at all about the gross injustices that were committed.
Were any of these laws to be proposed today, and applied equally, most New Zealanders would (one would hope) rise in revolt!
So I come away from the workshop far more supportive of treaty settlements and the process underway to resolve them. And pleased to see it progressed by a Brash-less National Government.
As for the degree of respectful co-existence between Maori and Pakeha cultures, now and going forward, it remains the reality that the “normal” or “mainstream” or “dominant” culture is the one with more power to choose — through myriad personal and official decisions — which aspects of any “minority’s” culture it will embrace … and how quickly and deeply.
Not surprisingly, it would appear that the dominant culture accepts, on its own terms, the fewest, most innocuous and least threatening changes proffered by its minorities. On the other hand, the minority is expected to meekly accept the imposition of the most, the most disruptive, and the most important changes. “Get with the program” … in other words … “become like us.”
In this regard, the value of the workshop is that it brings to the surface more clearly “who is sacrificing what” in the present interplay between Maori and Pakeha culture, and it makes more transparent the ways in which the dominant culture shapes most policies and practices to reflect its predispositions and to sustain its own benefits.
Through workshops like this, as Pakeha become more aware of their advantages, more individuals might better understand the harm their cultural intolerance can do, and more willing to adapt themselves.
Unfortunately, only about 350 people in Hawke’s Bay have participated in one of Robert Consedine’s workshops. Very few elected officials, business leaders or media practitioners have. Certainly there are other “Maori education” programs … and in some cases attendance is mandatory. However, numerous people in this weekend’s workshop commented that they have snoozed through uninspiring “sensitivity courses” in the past … but that this one was something special … a real awakening. That’s them talking, not me.
As for my own assessment, I’d say that Robert Consedine’s workshop should be “must attend” for anyone in a position of authority. In fact, participation would be immensely beneficial for anyone who wants to appreciate what the full potential of a truly integrated New Zealand might be.