An egalitarian society? Are we close?

Clive Bibby

COLUMN

James O’Malley’s letter of October 7 describing the effects of colonisation on indigenous people is well worth reading. His assessment of the state of many native populations throughout the world is hard to argue against, and his examples of the effects this cataclysmic experience has had on the most vulnerable is poignant and sobering.

However, it would be helpful to know what James suggests we should do as a nation from here on in, given the amount of good work towards reconciliation that has already occurred.

Perhaps I can offer a few ideas.

It seems to me that, at least in this country, one of the biggest obstacles to rehabilitation of those who have been disadvantaged by our past is the apparent reluctance of those same people to take advantage of the opportunities available to them and move forward.

In making this observation, I am fully aware I will be the subject of much ridicule from those interested in maintaining the grievance industry. That would be unfortunate, not because of any challenge to my puny authority but because the conversation about reconciliation appears to have stalled and been hijacked by those who have little interest in working together for the common good.

For the sake of this discussion, I will accept the notion that Pakeha have been and in some circles still are the oppressor and, as such, are responsible for the current plight of those who find difficulty in helping themselves.

OK, but isn’t it equally relevant that, particularly during the past 30 years, local and central governments have been directed by the predominantly Pakeha population to engage with iwi in order to address genuine grievances, make meaningful restitution and pay financial compensation where appropriate?

It is also a fact that most of those settlements have resulted in a complete restructuring of iwi financial bases — so much so that a number have built significant holdings in the commercial sector that ensures Maori are equal partners when local decisions are made about regional development.

Those outcomes are undoubtedly due in part to the quality of iwi leadership.

But my observations also recognise that the successes are usually accompanied by a single-minded purpose of looking to the future while learning from the past. This characteristic is the key to unlocking the shackles on our potential, and establishes a point of difference with the one that concentrates on establishing blame and extracting compensation for wrongs that are now part of history.

For the latter group, we must ask: Will enough ever be enough?

Sadly, while immersed in the events of a bygone era, opportunities for economic development can go begging. That makes it harder to help redress the balance.

I have had the good fortune of experiencing first-hand the successes of a community working together towards a common goal. In all my years being part of local efforts to restore quality of life to my hometown, I have never seen a project fail because the participants are denied opportunities that might ensure success.

I also believe New Zealand has come of age in its quest for creating the basis for an egalitarian society. Unsurprisingly, that statement is vehemently contradicted by those who point to the apparent inequalities that still exist for the bottom sector of our community.

It probably depends on how much individual responsibility plays in upgrading the living standards of those considered to be below the poverty line.

We are unquestionably “our brother’s keeper”. That is our responsibility for one another but in the end, we can only “take a horse to water — we can’t make it drink!”

James O’Malley’s letter of October 7 describing the effects of colonisation on indigenous people is well worth reading. His assessment of the state of many native populations throughout the world is hard to argue against, and his examples of the effects this cataclysmic experience has had on the most vulnerable is poignant and sobering.

However, it would be helpful to know what James suggests we should do as a nation from here on in, given the amount of good work towards reconciliation that has already occurred.

Perhaps I can offer a few ideas.

It seems to me that, at least in this country, one of the biggest obstacles to rehabilitation of those who have been disadvantaged by our past is the apparent reluctance of those same people to take advantage of the opportunities available to them and move forward.

In making this observation, I am fully aware I will be the subject of much ridicule from those interested in maintaining the grievance industry. That would be unfortunate, not because of any challenge to my puny authority but because the conversation about reconciliation appears to have stalled and been hijacked by those who have little interest in working together for the common good.

For the sake of this discussion, I will accept the notion that Pakeha have been and in some circles still are the oppressor and, as such, are responsible for the current plight of those who find difficulty in helping themselves.

OK, but isn’t it equally relevant that, particularly during the past 30 years, local and central governments have been directed by the predominantly Pakeha population to engage with iwi in order to address genuine grievances, make meaningful restitution and pay financial compensation where appropriate?

It is also a fact that most of those settlements have resulted in a complete restructuring of iwi financial bases — so much so that a number have built significant holdings in the commercial sector that ensures Maori are equal partners when local decisions are made about regional development.

Those outcomes are undoubtedly due in part to the quality of iwi leadership.

But my observations also recognise that the successes are usually accompanied by a single-minded purpose of looking to the future while learning from the past. This characteristic is the key to unlocking the shackles on our potential, and establishes a point of difference with the one that concentrates on establishing blame and extracting compensation for wrongs that are now part of history.

For the latter group, we must ask: Will enough ever be enough?

Sadly, while immersed in the events of a bygone era, opportunities for economic development can go begging. That makes it harder to help redress the balance.

I have had the good fortune of experiencing first-hand the successes of a community working together towards a common goal. In all my years being part of local efforts to restore quality of life to my hometown, I have never seen a project fail because the participants are denied opportunities that might ensure success.

I also believe New Zealand has come of age in its quest for creating the basis for an egalitarian society. Unsurprisingly, that statement is vehemently contradicted by those who point to the apparent inequalities that still exist for the bottom sector of our community.

It probably depends on how much individual responsibility plays in upgrading the living standards of those considered to be below the poverty line.

We are unquestionably “our brother’s keeper”. That is our responsibility for one another but in the end, we can only “take a horse to water — we can’t make it drink!”

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Scott Monsees, Kansas City - 2 months ago
"Am I my brother's keeper?" No, my brother is a free man. I care for him and pray for him, but in the end God gave him freedom of choice.

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