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Concerns about separatism should not be lightly dismissed

May 20, 2021

As local authorities throughout the country come to grips with the issue of Maori wards a number of flawed and questionable concepts have been thrown into the mix by proponents on both sides of the debate.

Waipa District Council is the latest local authority to consult with ratepayers before making a final decision and that is both a safe and commendable approach.

One of the most common arguments against Maori wards is that they would be a racist development but that is a misuse of the term. Racism generally means to act against people simply because of ethnicity and Maori wards will not do that. They are a positive rather than negative concept but are they really justifiable? Many non-Maori don’t think so but seem reluctant to say so in case of accusations of racism.

There is also the suggestion that Maori wards are yet another example of separatism along with a number of other recent developments like a Maori Health Authority. Even the recent review of Fish and Game Councils included a recommendation of separate seats for Maori at all levels.  But is separatism necessarily negative as many people think it is?

At a recent meeting between the Waipa council and Maori one supporter of Maori wards said Maori were “woefully underrepresented” on councils. If they are that is something Maori themselves could easily remedy as there has never been any impediment to Maori standing for to local bodies. Providing special concessions for Maori involvement is probably not going to be a popular move for many people but, if the ratepayers support Maori wards, their councils should be allowed to establish them.

The Treaty of Waitangi is often quoted as justification for Maori wards but there is nothing in the text of the treaty, in Maori or English, and I can read both, which suggests it was ever intended that there would an ongoing permanent partnership between Maori and the Crown in the governance of the country at all levels. None-the less most government departments make much of the treaty partnership in spite of growing opposition by those opposed to separatism.

If there is indeed a permanent partnership between Maori and the Crown, not just for local body elections but for almost everything else, it will be essential to accurately identify exactly who the partners are.

On one hand we have Maori. Anyone who can identify a Maori ancestor can rightly and properly claim to be Maori regardless of other ancestry. A good analogy is the status of Northern and Southern Irish people. No-one today would doubt the right of Northern Irish people to call themselves native Irishmen. Many of them however are direct descendants of an army of occupation installed by King William of Orange after the Battle of Boyne River in 1690 and were originally natives of Scotland. In New Zealand that natural process has not been recognised and Pakeha are still considered by many people as strangers, visitors or invaders.

Who then is the Crown? The Crown is exclusively the Government of the day and does not even include the Parliamentary Opposition or local authorities and most certainly does not include Pakeha or any other non-Maori New Zealanders.

What is not generally recognised or understood is that there has arisen in New Zealand in the past 160 odd years an entirely new people who never existed before. They are generally called Pakeha by many Maori and their origins were originally British-European, with many other ethnicities contributing to the mix over the years.

Native born Pakeha New Zealanders today are in fact more Pacific Islanders than many understand or even accept; Pacific Islanders with a still strong Anglo-Saxon heritage perhaps, but Pacific Islanders none-the-less for there is no rule in nature or law which dictates that Pacific Islanders can only be Polynesian, Micronesian or Melanesian.

In spite of the origins of their name, Pakeha are no more strangers here than Maori who preceded them by a mere 800 years or so. They are not part of the Crown or even on the Crown side of the treaty partnership.

That raises questions about the Pakeha role in that partnership and most will reject any suggestion that they are uninvolved spectators and here by consent of Maori through the treaty. Many Pakeha, my ancestors included, were in New Zealand well before the Treaty of Waitangi and we are Tangata Whenua Pakeha and equals with Tangata Whenua Maori.

If there are to be wards on local government for Tangata Whenua Maori, and there should be for those communities who want them, where are the wards for Tangata Whenua Pakeha? These are genuine questions which will require more serious consideration than shallow accusations of racism if serious disharmony is to be avoided.