Dear Mr Hide,
Like you I believe that New Zealand is a grossly unequal society. Let me give you some bald statistics.
- Over the past year, the number of Maori suicides has increased for most age groups, in particular the 15 to 19-year-old group, which is almost double the average of the previous four years. Source
- 51.3% of the current prison population identifies its ethnicity as Maori. Source
- Since 2008, 75 people have died in prison, where the suicide rate is 11 times higher than in the general population. The coroner investigated 37 of those deaths, recording 13 as suicide, a trend the ombudsman called a “serious concern”. Source
- As a population group, Māori have on average the poorest health status of any ethnic group in New Zealand. Source
- A larger proportion of Māori youth were NEET (not in education or employment) in the September 2011 quarter when compared with other ethnic groups (22.2 percent of all Māori aged 15–24 years). Source
- The unemployment rate for Māori was 13.3% in the year to June 2012… Compared with the unemployment rate for all people, which was 6.6%. Source
The fact that these statistics are not news to you or anyone else in New Zealand, and yet we maintain that we are a fairly equal society that gives people a fair go is disturbing.
There is no use in writing opinion pieces like you have written about the Waitangi Tribunal. There is no use insulting a language you do not speak. It demonstrates your arrogance and ignorance. There is no use even bothering to speculate over the disingenuous use of the word kawanatanga from a man fluent enough in Maori to know what mana and rangatiratanga actually meant. There is no good comparing Victorian England with Maori society in 1840. Any barbarity on the part of the Maori can be counter-balanced with any number of the atrocities committed by the West from 1840 to the present day.
One unjust act that has the West has perpetrated was carried out in this country: a long history of racist government policy that disenfranchised a people, and threw them to the bottom of the heap on any index you care to measure. Since the mid-1970s there has been some attempts to find redress, but the long list of facts I gave above are, sadly, from the last two years, and show that we have not come far with redress.
Maori should be our partners. We should be sharing this country with them. Partnership is a sound basis for a country’s foundation. The Waitangi Tribunal makes rulings about water, and airwaves because they are resources that the Maori people are supposed to share with Crown, but the Crown continues to act as if it is the only people in the land. The Waitangi Tribunal seeks to remind them that they are not. They need a lot of reminding.
In 1860 Maori owned 80% of the North Island. If Maori owned 80% of the North Island today I would like to suggest that their statistics for education and health outcomes would be quite different.
Please don’t insult me by telling me that Maori get special treatment. Unless you mean that a Maori boy born today is more likely to be sick, more likely to fail at school, more likely to not get a job, or get a low paid job, more likely to go to prison. Is that the special treatment you are talking about? And yet having smashed this culture some begrudge a settlement that recognises an injustice, or that protects a rich and current language, or asks the government not to simply sell away rights to rivers. Some in society even begrudge the paltry compensation many Maori get for being disempowered in their own land which is called the dole, or the DPB of the sickness benefit. Even that degrading, insulting pittance is frowned upon. “Why don’t you pull your socks up and get a job and stop bludging?” people say. And all down the line, generation after generation the Crown has stripped away land, denigrated a language, and – at best – wrung its hands over poor outcomes.
What we need is more partnership, not less. What we need is better understanding, not worse. An empowered people will not be grossly over-represented in negative statistics. The last time Maori were an empowered people they seized on the technologies and ideas of the West. They proved flexible, innovative entrepreneurs and world travellers with a strong self-belief. Is that what we want for Maori in New Zealand?
It is a fact that I can travel thirty minutes from where I am sitting now and find two New Zealands. I can go and see the New Zealand that has large, well-maintained houses, and a set of diverse local shops, and schools preparing well prepared students for an exciting world, where the health of the sick and the old is attended to, and most people have employment that lets them not only survive but enjoy life. Or I can take a slightly different road and find good houses run down, and a set of local shops, some empty, many selling things that do not benefit a community, where schools are struggling to lift the achievement of students who arrive unprepared for school, where community confronts more health issues with less money, where more people are out of work, and where those in work earn less, and worry about bills and buying food for the family.
I once worked in a school in this second New Zealand. I was a Dean for a few of those years. I met my students as 12 year olds, and saw them turn fifteen or so before I moved to another school. It was a hard job for a lot of reasons. It was hard because I was not used to having insight into lives as difficult as the lives these boys and girls had. I wasn’t used to seeing people just become teenagers cut themselves, I wasn’t used to hearing a girl talk about how a brother had smashed the front teeth of another brother out on the weekend, or finding that when I called home there was nobody there, nobody who really cared anymore, nobody who would come and help put back together whatever wrong their son or daughter had done at school that day. Or suicide. I wasn’t prepared for that in the young. The ultimate condemnation of a society. But what really crushed me was that almost all of the trouble that came through my door had brown skin.
Between 12 and 15 years of age I watched something happen to a lot of my troubled students. I watched them slowly realise that they were in trouble. Trouble that wasn’t to do with having a teacher send them out of the room, but trouble that was to do with seeing their life’s options narrow down to either welfare, or a low wage job, or a gang, or a prison. With the best will in the world we tried to get them to prepare for a low wage job as the best option, but – truthfully – this is the hardest option to take, because it involves keeping your respect for, and working within, a system that has disenfranchised you, and your family and their families for generations.
If you want to know what most people choose from that list then you only need look at the bald statistics of race and welfare, race and low paying jobs, gangs and crime. Yet you and I both know that when it comes to human capability there is no difference between us except what society gives us. Poverty is an issue, and for New Zealand that issue has a predominantly brown face. It is no good pretending otherwise, or talking about being colour blind, because this is not being honest, because that is pretending history doesn’t exist. Actually it is immoral. When someone is down you give them help. You give special treatment to those who need it, so that they won’t need it anymore. It is brotherhood. Something that has been lacking.
I was deeply disappointed to read your article in the Herald. I believe that the Waitangi Tribunal serves a useful purpose, and is one of the few checks we have in our system against a largely unchecked Executive. Beyond this though, I was disappointed by your tone. Your dismissive, derogatory tone against a group that faces serious disadvantage, and has few representatives with real power. And yet you suggest nothing except to get rid of the Waitangi Tribunal, and to impose a Crown reading on a document that was largely discussed and signed in Maori. In international law it is the treaty in the indigenous language that stands.
We need peacemakers. We need to empower the disempowered and respect that there are different views in the world. A New Zealand of true partnership would be a light to the world, but more importantly, it would reduce suffering in our land.
Shall we be the first among nations on 6 February, 2040, or the least?