Marae Based Justice

Hon Tau Henare, MP for Te Tai Tokerau, Minister of Maori Affairs

Te mea tuatahi ki a aku rangitira, tena koutou tena koutou. Ki te hemana o nga tane, ki te hemana o nga wahine, kei a korua a tena korua ara tena koutou katoa.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I know I havenít got long, but I want to say a few quick words about the vexed topics of multi-culturalism, bi-culturalism and Maori.

You know Iíve caused a bit of flak about this recently, in my usual fashion.  Because there are very difficult issues mixed up in all this, which we mustnít let go by default.  And there are real dangers to our race relations if we get them wrong.

I agree with Mr Prasad (the Race Relations Conciliator) who has said recently that we have to start talking about these things.  I have no problems whatever with his sincerity and courage and initiative.  But what I am saying, is that if we are going to have a race relations debate, we have to set it up on a basis that allows the real issues of our nation to be properly dealt with.

Let me be clear.  There are specific dangers to New Zealand in setting up a race relations debate on a presumption of multi-culturalism. The problem with that type of debate is that it begs and excludes the very issue that has to be discussed, namely, the status of Maori.  Because it already has the answer.  Maori have no special status.

I know we are all getting tired of grappling with the problems of having to cope with the grievances of a colonised, indigenous population.  So it is natural to just want to say,  ďStuff it, letís just give everyone the same, and then there canít be any fightsĒ Letís change our bicultural nation to a multi-cultural one, and get rid of any special Maori factor.  It will be so much easier. But someone should ask Maori about this change of plan.  Because that wasnít the original deal here. If Maori see that one side seems to be quietly altering the original terms, they are going to have a whole lot of reactions, from anxiety to rebellion and, everything in between, and none of these reactions will be good for race relations.

Listen, the theme for this conference is ďIndigenous Peoples and JusticeĒ.  In New Zealand, that means Maori and justice, doesnít it?  This is a big subject.  But why are we focusing only on one aspect of it? When you look at the programme, it seems to be about Maori and punishment.  I would rather talk about Maori and justice.  Maybe if Maori had more justice, they wouldnít need so much punishment.

Treasury amuses me.  They are racking their brains to know why their reforms havenít worked.  Well I can tell them.  They are not working because there is too much wasted potential in our economy.  The waste of Maori potential especially is particularly shocking.  I believe we could solve a lot of problems, and create a great deal of prosperity for all of us, by getting more Maori into our economy.  You can hardly expect to succeed as a society when half your team has been sent to the sin bin.

How can we get Maori out of the sin bin, and into our economy?  What do Maori need to participate fully and positively in society?  Well, ask yourself what you need.  Because Maori need the same.  We all need justice.  And we all need fair opportunities.  But what is always overlooked, and what I am specially talking about today is, we all need to feel that our culture - our whole- way of life, who we are, where we spring from - is secure and respected, and we do not have to fight to survive in our homeland.

Yes, the Government is moving on justice for Maori.  And we are moving on social policies for Maori, though there is still a long way to go. But Treaty settlements and better living conditions are not going to be enough by themselves to get full Maori participation in our society. In addition, like everyone else, Maori must be able to feel that their identity as Maori is safe in our society before they will want to belong to it.

In New Zealand we have many different cultures. The Pakeha culture is in a healthy state. More recent arrivals are also eager to get stuck in and have their share. They donít need or expect reassurance about their place in New Zealand.  Itís irrelevant, so long as they have a good standard of living.  And the reason why, is that their cultures are strong back home, and this gives them a leg up to success.  Itís funny isnít it, how newly arriving people, plants - wildlife of all sorts ≠they always seem to really take off in New Zealand, and crowd out the natives.

Let us be clear.  In New Zealand at present, the Maori culture and way of life is under threat.  We are in the company, (so closely we donít even recognise it), of an ancient culture fighting to survive.  How have we got to this state, I could tell you.  But I will not. The question of who or what is to blame for the situation of Maori is not important for us here today.  The main thing here is that so long as Maori see a threat to their place in New Zealand, they will be very luke- warm about participating in our society.  This is not just a Maori thing. Every culture fights to survive, especially in its native land.  Itís what wars are fought over.

So when I talk about the need to be mindful of our bicultural foundations, and not go changing anything under the cover of an apparently fair-minded agenda, I am not just waving a flag.  I am talking instead about a serious risk to our society with direct consequences for race relations and the level of Maori participation in our economy.

I think that publishing a Race Relations Agenda which virtually invites people to vote for- multi-culturalism, is like changing our constitution under the covers.  Multi-culturalism is a valid issue, but itís one we need to debate properly, with good information for people about whatís at stake.  Subjecting it to a vote by Pakeha can only increase the anxiety of Maori people about the survival of their culture, and this will not be at all good for race relations.

Of course I know that in a simply geographical sense, New Zealand is a multicultural society.  This just means that people of many cultures live and belong here, and that is perfectly true.  But sometimes when people talk about New Zealand being multicultural, they are not just describing the facts of our population makeup.  They are using the word with a political agenda that would like to downgrade the constitutional position of Maori. You know that any word can be made the symbol of an agenda.  Once that happens, you are no longer free to use that word, even in a factual way, without making a political statement,

Iím reminded of the poor old Dominion newspaper, getting itself increasingly out of touch with their use the word ĎMaorisĒ with an ďsĒ.  Sure, grammatically, if itís being used as a word in English, they could be right.  In fact, they are on a hobby-horse of rightness, rocking away.  But they are missing the point. Rightly or wrongly, it pisses Maori people off to be called Maoris, You can tell it doesnít sound right.  So when you go on using ďMaorisĒ, with an ďsĒ, it means you are taking a position against Maori.  The Dominion knows all this, of course, but they keep doing it, so what kind of agenda is that?  What market are they appealing to?

I think the distinction between multi-cultural and bi-cultural is unfortunately becoming loaded with a political agenda. Multiculturalism is an agenda which says that Maori people are not special.  Well, maybe they are not.  But letís talk about that with a good understanding of all points of view, rather than sneaking it onto an agenda for people to vote on, with no good information to guide them.

Multi-cultural is such a cozy term, isnít it.  Itís not hard to sell an agenda of multi-culturalism, to a public that wouldnít mind taking Maori down a few pegs.  Multi-culturalism just means giving everyone the same, doesnít it?  That seems fair. If everyone gets the same, there shouldnít be any fights.  This is the way we treat children squabbling in the car.  But I think it will take more than the crude devices of parenthood, to sort out our constitution.

My opinion, for what it is worth, is that considered as a culture, Maori people are special in New Zealand.  After all, it was the agreement of the Maori people who were already here to share this land with Pakeha that made New Zealand possible. Now Maori survival is under threat.  It doesnít seem quite fair.  It certainly stirs Maori emotions up.  I donít think it would do us any harm as a nation to show a bit more consideration, and think what it means to Maori, when they see people waving the flag of multiculturalism right under their noses.

Maori culture is not like any other in New Zealand.  It was here first, and then had all the others imposed on it.  When all the later arrivals came, they knew what to expect, and what they were getting into, with Maori already in residence, but they still chose to take their chances and come.  They came by choice, knowing what the deal was here and accepting it.

When the British came, they accepted the responsibility of protecting the interests of the people who were already here. Such protection was already regarded as a part of justice for indigenous peoples.  The British knew that was right, so they promised it in the Treaty of Waitangi.  But no Maori would have signed the Treaty, had they known they would end up fighting for the Maori way of life.

Moving to multi-culturalism means getting rid of the Treaty.  But the Treaty was signed to avoid a fight.  It is still doing a very good job of doing that today. What will save us from fighting if we get rid of the Treaty. The police? We could put a few more Maori in prison, I suppose, but I donít think so.

Ladies and gentlemen, we must stop thinking of bi-culturalism and the Treaty as part of the problem, and start seeing it as, part of the answer.  What the principles of bi-culturalism, contained in the Treaty, show us are the basic conditions of Justice for indigenous people.  Unless these are met, Maori people will never consent to belong fully and positively in our nation.  The Government needs this information.  Because it is the Government which is responsible for what happens to Maori culture.

The Government doesnít need to help the Pakeha culture.  It (government) practically is the Pakeha culture.  It doesnít need to help the Dutch or Chinese cultures.  They have their own homelands where they are strong.  But it does need to ensure the survival of Maori as a vibrant, modern culture here in its homeland.  Naturally the Treaty also tells us how to do this, through the protection of rangitiratanga, but I will talk about that another time.

Meanwhile, we must try to be mindful of what is at stake for Maori people in New Zealand, when we talk about multi-culturalism. Because Maori are acutely conscious of their struggle to survive and what they are up against. The grim statistics of Maori are even more sinister than we thought. We thought they were just about Maori individuals not making it. But they are really about a whole people and culture not making it.

So I hope I have explained now a little bit about why I am rather dismayed at the line taken by the Race Relations Office in its agenda initiative. Whether knowingly or not, the agenda is rigged. It will be read as an invitation to vote for multi-culturalism, on an assurance that this is the best way to fix our race relations. To every Maori, however, it will seem like inviting the wolf to vote for a chicken dinner.

It is a basic right of every culture to survive and flourish in its homeland. It is necessary to secure that right and put it beyond question, otherwise people will fight for it, as they are doing all round the world at this very moment. In New Zealand that right is enshrined in the concept of bi-culturalism which is inseparable from the Treaty.  If bi-culturalism goes, so will the Treaty.

If we lose sight of the Treaty, we will rob ourselves of the very institution which was designed specifically to achieve racial peace in New Zealand. We have depended on the Treaty greatly in the last 20 years, and it has worked well with the Waitangi Tribunal acting as a wonderful safety valve. So my message to all who would lay hands on our bi-cultural constitution without knowing anything about us, is: donít!  It doesnít matter how well-meaning you are, if you donít understand it, leave it alone!

Thank you.