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‘Relationships in Taranaki’
25 September 2000.
the Office of the Race Relations Conciliator released its report ‘Relationships in Taranaki’ last week. The report followed invitations to the Race Relations Conciliator, Dr Rajen Prasad, to visit the region following the police shooting of Steven Wallace on 30 April. The Background section points out that the Office received a number of calls from people asking the Conciliator to intervene because they believed it was a racist shooting, and the 'result of long term antagonism between Mäori youth and the police in Waitara and Taranaki' rather than an accident.
The Conciliator and two staff members visited Waitara, New Plymouth, Hawera and Parihaka in May and July 2000, and the report is based on their discussions with local people and organisations at those times.
The Report is divided into nineteen sections: Acknowledgements; Executive Summary; Introduction; Recommendations; Background to the Report; The Perspective Adopted; The Importance of Mäori / Päkehä Relationships in Taranaki; Waitara; Impact of Steven Wallace’s shooting; Connection between past and present; Historical Relations in Taranaki; Institutional Relationships; Relationships Amongst Hapü and Iwi in Taranaki; Personal Experiences in Taranaki; Some Päkehä perceptions; Leadership; Relationship with the Police; Need for Community Healing; and Summary and Conclusions.
It is: “addressed to the people of Taranaki because eventually they will decided which concerns are important to address and progress.” It points out that “development work needs to be undertaken as a prelude to addressing the challenges now confronting Taranaki” and includes things which the government needs to move along - improving the dire economic and social position of many people in the region, especially Mäori, the speedy resolution of Treaty claims, and the development of education programmes which provide increased awareness of past events which are behind some of today’s problems.
The Report makes seven recommendations under six headings. They are:
1. Institutional Arrangements - Recommendation 1: we recommend that a new institutional arrangement (The Taranaki Group) be carefully constructed to enable regular and informed discussion about any matter considered by an institution to affect relationships amongst the people of Taranaki; Recommendation 2: it is recommended that the three District Councils be asked to provide administrative support for The Taranaki Group;
2. Hapü and Iwi leadership - Recommendation 3: that every effort be made to repair fractures among hapü and iwi in Taranaki to resolve questions of leadership so that those seeking to consult and collaborate with iwi Mäori can do with so confidence;
3. Mäori / Police Relationship - Recommendation 4: that the police in Taranaki undertake specific action to re-establish a relationship of trust with Mäori and institute jointly developed protocols for managing crises in the future;
4. Treaty Settlements - Recommendation 5: that government take whatever steps it can to reach a speedy settlement of big Treaty claims in Taranaki, and especially those that might assist in the development of an economic base for a town like Waitara;
5. Community Healing - Recommendation 6: that opportunities be made available for community dialogue on recent events in Waitara as part of the healing process for as long as it is considered necessary by the local community;
6. Community education - Recommendation 7: that an education process be devised to enhance understanding of Taranaki history and the covenants of the Treaty of Waitangi, and how they impact on Mäori / Päkehä relationships in Taranaki.
Overall the report makes interesting reading. It refers to historical elements in Taranaki (land confiscations, violent injustices, social disruption, transportation, and imprisonment without trial) and points out: “Mäori feel that even today, they are precluded from participating in the life of Taranaki in a manner befitting their status as tangata whenua and Treaty partner ... the descendants of the iwi of Taranaki and of the early settlers still live side by side, but in circumstances which are quite different for each of them.”
The Report describes the existence of both institutional and personal racism in Taranaki (and elsewhere around the country). On the first, the Report states: ... “Historical and present day institutional arrangements which have resulted in Mäori under-achievement in almost all of the social statistics available provide evidence of institutional racism” and on the latter, it refers to ... “some attitudes which were less than helpful for building positive Mäori / Päkehä relationships. Such negative attitudes and beliefs, which might have been gained through interaction with a small number of people, were then generalised to all Mäori.”
The Report emphasises several times the crucial need for education and information in changing prejudicial attitudes and beliefs, and for increasing awareness of the historical events which have lead to the situation in Taranaki today (as per Recommendation 7 above). This need for education and information is also specified in relation to the current government's Closing the Gaps policy: “A general cynicism exists in Taranaki about the government’s disparity gaps reduction policies because little information has been made available to explain them to Mäori and Päkehä.”
This is a particularly interesting statement, as it seems to us that one of the crucial failings of ‘Closing the Gaps’ is the government’s focus on trying to close the gaps in an economic sense, but without similarly attempting to close the gaps of ignorance and prejudice. Helen Clark’s condoning of the backlash against Tariana Turia several weeks ago is clear evidence of that - rather than use the opportunity to acknowledge the horrors of colonisation in this country and support more open discussion of its long term effects, she chose instead to shut down the debate (‘that word must never be used again in a New Zealand context’) and widen the gap in understanding. The need for education and information obviously extends well beyond Taranaki.
While the Report as a whole makes a number of useful and positive comments, there are nevertheless some problems with it. Firstly, there are several references to the Treaty of Waitangi as ‘the [or our] founding document’ - it is not clear what exactly the Conciliator means by this, nor what his position is on the ‘covenants’ (articles) of the Treaty. The Treaty of Waitangi is only the founding document for Päkehä - Mäori do not need a founding document, that is what tangata whenua status is all about.
Secondly, there is a particularly alarming statement about the police as follows: “The current perception that the police treat Mäori differently and are therefore racist is of serious concern for the Race Relations Conciliator. This perception needs to be changed and will require the establishment of new relationships and institutional arrangements in the near future between Mäori leaders, the youth and the police.” It is well established that it is not merely a ‘perception’ that the police treat Mäori differently, and we suggest that it is rather police attitudes and behaviour which needs to be changed.
On this matter, the Conciliator reports that ... “the police now have a detailed Mäori responsiveness strategy and iwi liaison officers have been appointed to most districts in New Zealand. We have also been advised of the ongoing review of Police education curriculum with respect to responsiveness to Mäori.” As this brings to mind the image of Rob Robinson (then Deputy Police Commissioner) on Linda Clark’s TV show earnestly assuring us all that the police are very aware of Mäori issues, for example every new recruit at Trentham is greeted with a pöwhiri he explained, it would have been useful if the Conciliator had included more detail on this in the Report.
Copies of ‘Relationships in Taranaki’, A Report by the Race Relations Conciliator, September 2000 are available from: Office of the Race Relations Conciliator, PO Box 105 102, Auckland Central. Tel (09) 307 2353; fax (09) 377 0123.
From the Report: “It has to be agreed, for the sake of positive relations amongst Mäori and Päkehä, that in the 21st century, there can be no place for guilt amongst present generations for the actions of the past, but they should accept responsibility for resolving them effectively.” Quite.