'Race', 'Privilege', and 'The Treaty'   |   Foreshore and seabed information

Nats plunge Maori back into colonial past

8 February 2004

As an aficionado of style, I was all admiration last week for National's Georgina te Heuheu, its sole Maori MP, and one who just had to go. It may have been that Karen Walkerish black-and-white top she was wearing on the day; it may just have been her perfect manners.

Good manners are stylish and you don't have to have a plum in your mouth and lots of money to have them; all it takes is personal dignity. Te Heuheu is a good example; she didn't curse and swear; she didn't turn nasty; she didn't even claim a martyred moral high ground. She behaved like an adult, whatever she may have felt inwardly.

In doing so, she made obvious what until then had been only implied: there is no room for Maori in the National Party, not if they're thoughtful and well-educated, and place a high value on their own cultural heritage.

They won't be consulted, either, as leader Don Brash goes about his campaign to win the hearts and minds of the sort of people who already write him fan mail. Wira Gardiner and his wife Hekia Parata, fellow Maori National Party members of considerable education and professional experience, discovered that as te Heuheu was dumped from her Maori Affairs portfolio.

I thought that was tough: Parata has always been prepared to wear navy and pearls with the best of them. The next-listed MP in the party, she finds herself as sidelined as te Heuheu - and even te Heuheu surely has the odd pearl bauble rattling around in a drawer.

Brash had no need to talk to any of these three senior National Party Maori, let alone listen to their perspective, because he knows best, and so do all the other white Nats in parliament. It stands to reason; sort the Maori out and the rest will take care of itself.

Gerry Brownlee, who despite his name is not brown, now has te Heuheu's portfolio and, in a dazzling display of biculturalism, he proved on television that he can count, hesitantly, to 10 in te reo. It was an impressive start.

It's of course a truism that Maori are bicultural, unlike most other New Zealanders, who are not. We've been dominant here for so long that we've forgotten it was ever otherwise and that when the Treaty of Waitangi was signed it was to general relief; we'd have had to fight much harder to take over without it. But then we forgot about the Treaty and gave it to rats to eat. They didn't like the taste much, which was our bad luck: they left enough so that you can still read the pesky thing.

Other countries treat their founding documents with reverence. We just moved right along and, in the process of being taken over, Maori learned to be bicultural, to function both in their own world and ours; to learn our language and customs and to live by laws into which they had no input, rather than by their own.

And that's what was so elegant about Brash's decisiveness last week; it took Maori back, in one swoop, to the early history between us, when white colonists didn't listen and Maori were not heard; when the white man knew best because his way of looking at things was the civilised one; when the Maori who was on your side was the "good" Maori, and all the rest were ratbags.

Maori didn't like what we were doing from the beginning; their utterances showed they saw the future all too clearly, and some fought hard against the inevitable, just as native Americans did in America.

Maori leaders spoke pure poetry in their despair but poetry was no match for pragmatism. Besides, not speaking their language, we couldn't hear it.

Of course Maori aren't special; there are more of us than them. Of course they don't deserve special treatment; we do very nicely the way things are. Of course the Treaty doesn't matter; most of us don't even know what it said. And, anyway, it was a long time ago; things are different now and, if our ancestors broke promises, why shouldn't we continue to enjoy the results?

Brash has the backing of thinking people, who believe in standing firm in the face of an aggressive minority, and in one rule for all - so long as it's obvious who's really in charge.

There have been striking successes with this approach in places like Northern Ireland, Bosnia and the former Palestine. Nobody has ever been special in any of those places, either, unless they have been holding the biggest gun. And I don't hear anyone complaining.

Rosemary McLeod,
Sunday Star Times
© Fairfax New Zealand Limited 2004

Indigenous Rights   |  Peace Movement Aotearoa