On Waitangi Day
It is a pity to see the media focus on the protests at Te Tii Marae once again as being a sense of division, with leaders giving the impression that protestors should just shut up. The divide between discourses of unity and division depends on where you sit politically, and perhaps one of the most constructive things that we could do in a democracy is to accept that there are differing opinions on this. Waitangi Day is more often than not a day of national amnesia rather than remembrance, in that people cut out the events since 1840 in order to focus in on an originary myth of equal opportunity and representation. The fact that the Treaty basically sat in a rat-infested cellar at the bottom of Parliament for more than a hundred years before being pulled out is mysteriously forgotten by mainstream news, or the numerous grievances that extend right up until the present day in favour of a discussion that divides Maori into good Maori who assimilate and bad Maori who are positioned as filtering their reality through the lens of the past. Waitangi Day becomes reoriented to being an event in the mainstream where Maori must cede to the responsibilities of the Crown, rather than being viewed as equal partners.
The idea that all Maori should have to celebrate this movement is completely unrealistic - one only needs to look overseas to other indigenous groups who have been colonized to see that what is celebrated by white culture is often a day of national mourning for the indigenous groups. In this respect, it was sad to pick up the newspaper this morning and see David Shearer giving a prayer to 'New Zealand Day' rather than Waitangi Day, signaling that he perhaps promptly needs some upskilling on the local politics he has missed while he has been overseas, or that Labour are quite willing to bend to the Pakeha majority once again for votes while isolating Maori. Shearer's call that politics needs to be left out of the day signals can actually be read as political as it appeals to the cultural misunderstandings of the Pakeha majority while minimizing grievances.
The myth of New Zealand as having idyllic race relations is one that is deeply embedded in our culture. One only needs to look at the American sociologist David Ausubel's controversial 1960 work The Fern and the Tiki and its potent critique of the split between the veneer of fantastic race relations and the actual reality. The book argued that the Pakeha inability to comprehend Maori perspectives would create Maori movements similar to the NAACP in the US, successfully predicting the movements of the 1970s. We still have these myths today.
While Pita Sharples states correctly on TV3 that aggression or yelling on the marae is seen as breaking tikanga, it could be easily argued that this is a part of Waitangi Day. The difference in opinion between Sharples and the kuia can be seen in the way the latter group felt that Key should return to discuss and resolve the protestors' concerns. Honouring the Treaty is arguably slightly complex when Key has also previously stated his desire to legislate the Maori seats out of existence by 2014, ending the brief history of joint governance that the Treaty promotes. In achieving this goal, the Treaty functions much more as a legal mechanism to settle and silence these notions of joint governance rather than to continue it. In this respect, I agree with Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres' call for Pakeha to be generous in considering other peoples' perspectives. Getting good race relations is not about writing Maori concerns off in comparison to overseas countries, such as Shearer's comments, or focussing on the division with Key's comments around the protestors 'hijacking' his day. It is about accepting that there are different perspectives and Waitangi Day should be a day which we remember and think through these. Doing so is not ceding to a minority, it's accepting that you live in a democracy.