Monday, August 26, 2013

The essay I won't submit...

As part of my fledgling journey to study for a degree, I decided that I wanted to study the Treaty of Waitangi. This document to all intents and purposes is the founding document of our country. I wasn't really looking forward to it, but I felt with all my heart it would be important, so I begun. I had been to a course about the Treaty before and what I felt was that it was an imperfect document in an imperfect world. That writers of the treaty were flawed human beings (as we all are) with dubious and non-transparent intentions and it was always going to end badly.

This most excellent book is a really fantastic companion to the Treaty, and gives an insight into the different very human characters who played their parts in those early, raw, exciting days of developing this country.

I hated the way the British felt they had to educate the "natives" and the patronizing way they acted. I watched a movie in tutorials one day about the maori wars, and was struck by how intelligent and resourceful the maori are, and how they well out-smarted the British. I felt hopeful, the Maori are warriors from way back, maybe it would be ok.

But then I began to research for my essay and I've got bogged down. I read this extract, and my eyes were opened. I realised that it is not enough to teach your children that "people come in all different colours" and to know how to count to five in Maori and that whero is red. Racism is "not individual acts of meanness" but "invisible systems conferring dominance to my group". It's so much bigger than I realised. (Read the extract if you want to know more.)

Now (here's something you don't know about me) I grew up in a cult, I know what it's like to be marginalized and ridiculed. I understand the pain of powerlessness and of control. I actually do. In my own way, I know how it is to be an exile in your own town. Maybe because of this, the more I read and the more I research the sadder I feel.

How can we fix it?? how can someone like me make a difference?? I'm not sure I know all the answers to this, but there are a few things I do know....
  1. The Waitangi Tribunal is not going to fix all the problems, it's a copout to think it will.
  2. New Zealand is still run by with flawed humans with dubious intentions.
  3. The problem is definitely bigger than any one of us.

I think as a Pakeha we fondly imagine that if all the Treaty claims are settled and all the money paid out that the problems will go away and we can go forward as one people. What we actually need to do is to realise that settling claims will not fix the system, it's hugely important as a starting point, but a system continues to try and put patches on brokenness will continue to fail. We will never be able to move forward until we each acknowledge the past that we bring with us into the future, if each one of us carried a little bit of the load, we could all move forward as a nation. I hope I get to be part of that.


  1. Being on the other side of the ditch I'm not really that familiar with NZ history - but nonetheless I found this post fascinating.

    Thinking about our place in the greater community is so important. Considering what we can do to drive change - our effort in the collective. Important stuff. Those in the future will judge us, they'll ask us why we did or didn't act.

  2. It's really only recently, here in the States, that I've truly become aware of white privilege. It's a dirty phrase here and people here tell me it doesn't exist but oh boy, it does. By the act of denying it, it becomes entrenched. We non-Aboriginal Aussies are guilty too.
    I think anywhere where one racial group takes power from another no matter what their colour (eg the Chinese in Malaysia, the Indians in Fiji) you end up with this imbalance.

  3. Well said, Deb. That extract is sobering reading - thank you for posting it. A subject I could do with learning more about. It appears more than an imbalance - it appears to me as an abuse.

  4. I admire your decision to learn more about the treaty of our country... I really should read that book you showed me so I can understand more about it all, I'm so ignorant really. I also admire your constant strength... making you who you are and your drive to make the best life for your kids in ALL areas of life, educating them in important areas such as this. It all shows through & you are amazing to take on a degree when most mums of 4 kids are moving towards a less busy time!!. I'm sure your past experiences have surely shaped you into the amazing person you are today. Go Deb! I look forward to learning more from you on your journey.

  5. Oi, li alguns posts do seu blog e achei muito interessante,com certeza você tem potencial, vi que você é uma pessoa esforçada que só quer falar e ser ouvida na blogosfera, assim como eu. Posso dizer que gostei muito do que li, sei que será um grande blog pois é de fácil entendimento e o conteúdo é gostoso de ler. Sou Luciana Shirley do blog se desejar me visite e siga, mas só se gostar, eu vou retribuir seguindo também o seu.

  6. Yes! I've been studying the health of Australia's Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders this semester - and it's heartbreaking. One essay required a lot of background reading and it moved me on from feeling that we'd done wrong to understanding that we will never fix that wrong with pots of money until we as a country fully acknowledge every painful incident, the incredible beauty and wealth of our first people's culture and history, and really work towards eliminating those societal and power structures that keep reinforcing that racism and pain. Sadly, I just don't see it happening any time soon. But like you, I hope to be part of some kind of healing ...


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