Te Hā must create space for truths to be told

COLUMN

The upcoming sestercentennial is an important platform for our nation and our community to explore and understand the nature and the impact of first meetings between Māori and Pākeha, not only in 1769 but in the years that followed.

Truth is, for 250 years only one side of the story made it into the popular discourse of New Zealand, giving rise to widespread ignorance and racism.

By virtue of our mandate, our trust operates under the vision of dual heritage, shared future, and is perfectly positioned to create space for the pūrākau, narratives, histories and herstories to finally take their rightful place. For this to happen, local people need that space to share their expertise and experiences of first and subsequent meetings between Pākeha and Māori, and, should they choose, to shed light on that long pre-contact period when the establishment and settlement of the many nations within these islands took place.

While this all sounds relatively straight forward, a review of the letters to the editor around the proposed name change from Poverty Bay to Turanganui a Kiwa/Poverty Bay suggests that as a community, we have a way to go in acknowledging the fact that tangata whenua have important contributions to make. Tune into talkback radio on any day of the week, and it’s obvious that we have work to do if respectful spaces for more than one version of history to be shared are to be created. The vitriol and ignorance, hatred and disgust openly levelled towards Māori people is eye watering.

In fact, much of the popular discourse pertaining to “nationhood” in New Zealand has been built on the mythology of a “peaceful settlement”. The erasure and denial of the impact of colonisation on whānau, hapū and iwi has been critical in keeping up the appearance of this myth, which traces back to medieval Europe. A European drive to lead the world positioned all things Western as the universal standard for excellence, which went on to underpin 19th century theories of race. Western norms were soon considered the norm, and all other races classified in comparison.

Racism is, at its heart, an unfortunate superiority complex, with the added benefit of infrastructure and knowledge systems privileging one form of knowledge over others. It also refuses to accept other forms of knowledge as relevant or worthy, rendering a dominant discourse that is hopelessly monocultural.

The twist in the colonisation story of the South Pacific is that on one hand, land acquisition was the focus, while on the other, the “science” informing race classifications of Māori and Pacific peoples positioned them as worthy of engagement.

The “civilising mission” became the human face of colonial expansion, offering natives the opportunity to work hard and abandon their inferior cultures and beliefs while taking on a superior European model.

Early legislation focused on an education system designed to accelerate these ideas, wiping out Māori language and culture while holding the idea that “new” and progressive ideas from Great Britain held the key to future opportunity. The racism of today finds its roots in this faulty ideology.

It’s embarrassing really, the ongoing belief held by so many that Pakeha culture remains superior to that of tangata whenua. It’s not just disrespectful, it’s also counter-intuitive, especially in the wake of Treaty settlements, Crown apologies and Māori economic development. Iwi and hapū groups remain steadfast in their commitment to the well-being of their territories, culture, language and people, despite best efforts to suppress, silence, annihilate and assimilate them.

Despite everything, Māori people still want to be Māori. However, that basic indigenous human right remains elusive. The resilience of tangata whenua is something to behold, but should not be taken for granted.

As a nation we will not prosper socially, culturally or economically if we continue to suppress Māori rights, voices, ideas and leadership. There is rich learning for us as communities and for our nation, as we “lift the rug” on our intertwined existence as Māori and Pākeha people. This is the real opportunity in the commemoration of this sestercentennial. This is the important space that must be created. Truths must be told. Wrongs must be made right. Denial is no longer an option. While there are some who say we are not ready for these discussions, we believe that the time is right. Te Hā Trust wants to place this pou in the ground and issue the challenge to our nation to enter this space and generate these courageous kōrero.

It is our hope that in 50 years’ time, our grandchildren will look back and say that the beginnings of a respectful relationship between Māori and Pākeha in Aotearoa can be traced back to 2018, when we decided to do this work. We must be brave, we must seek a shared future that makes us all proud of our dual heritage.

  • Glenis Philip-Barbara, Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Uepōhatu, is the newly-appointed general manager of Te Hā Sestercentennial Trust.

The upcoming sestercentennial is an important platform for our nation and our community to explore and understand the nature and the impact of first meetings between Māori and Pākeha, not only in 1769 but in the years that followed.

Truth is, for 250 years only one side of the story made it into the popular discourse of New Zealand, giving rise to widespread ignorance and racism.

By virtue of our mandate, our trust operates under the vision of dual heritage, shared future, and is perfectly positioned to create space for the pūrākau, narratives, histories and herstories to finally take their rightful place. For this to happen, local people need that space to share their expertise and experiences of first and subsequent meetings between Pākeha and Māori, and, should they choose, to shed light on that long pre-contact period when the establishment and settlement of the many nations within these islands took place.

While this all sounds relatively straight forward, a review of the letters to the editor around the proposed name change from Poverty Bay to Turanganui a Kiwa/Poverty Bay suggests that as a community, we have a way to go in acknowledging the fact that tangata whenua have important contributions to make. Tune into talkback radio on any day of the week, and it’s obvious that we have work to do if respectful spaces for more than one version of history to be shared are to be created. The vitriol and ignorance, hatred and disgust openly levelled towards Māori people is eye watering.

In fact, much of the popular discourse pertaining to “nationhood” in New Zealand has been built on the mythology of a “peaceful settlement”. The erasure and denial of the impact of colonisation on whānau, hapū and iwi has been critical in keeping up the appearance of this myth, which traces back to medieval Europe. A European drive to lead the world positioned all things Western as the universal standard for excellence, which went on to underpin 19th century theories of race. Western norms were soon considered the norm, and all other races classified in comparison.

Racism is, at its heart, an unfortunate superiority complex, with the added benefit of infrastructure and knowledge systems privileging one form of knowledge over others. It also refuses to accept other forms of knowledge as relevant or worthy, rendering a dominant discourse that is hopelessly monocultural.

The twist in the colonisation story of the South Pacific is that on one hand, land acquisition was the focus, while on the other, the “science” informing race classifications of Māori and Pacific peoples positioned them as worthy of engagement.

The “civilising mission” became the human face of colonial expansion, offering natives the opportunity to work hard and abandon their inferior cultures and beliefs while taking on a superior European model.

Early legislation focused on an education system designed to accelerate these ideas, wiping out Māori language and culture while holding the idea that “new” and progressive ideas from Great Britain held the key to future opportunity. The racism of today finds its roots in this faulty ideology.

It’s embarrassing really, the ongoing belief held by so many that Pakeha culture remains superior to that of tangata whenua. It’s not just disrespectful, it’s also counter-intuitive, especially in the wake of Treaty settlements, Crown apologies and Māori economic development. Iwi and hapū groups remain steadfast in their commitment to the well-being of their territories, culture, language and people, despite best efforts to suppress, silence, annihilate and assimilate them.

Despite everything, Māori people still want to be Māori. However, that basic indigenous human right remains elusive. The resilience of tangata whenua is something to behold, but should not be taken for granted.

As a nation we will not prosper socially, culturally or economically if we continue to suppress Māori rights, voices, ideas and leadership. There is rich learning for us as communities and for our nation, as we “lift the rug” on our intertwined existence as Māori and Pākeha people. This is the real opportunity in the commemoration of this sestercentennial. This is the important space that must be created. Truths must be told. Wrongs must be made right. Denial is no longer an option. While there are some who say we are not ready for these discussions, we believe that the time is right. Te Hā Trust wants to place this pou in the ground and issue the challenge to our nation to enter this space and generate these courageous kōrero.

It is our hope that in 50 years’ time, our grandchildren will look back and say that the beginnings of a respectful relationship between Māori and Pākeha in Aotearoa can be traced back to 2018, when we decided to do this work. We must be brave, we must seek a shared future that makes us all proud of our dual heritage.

  • Glenis Philip-Barbara, Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Uepōhatu, is the newly-appointed general manager of Te Hā Sestercentennial Trust.

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Tina Ngata - 1 year ago
Kia Ora Glenis - seeing as I've publicly said we are not ready for this conversation I thought I'd take the opportunity to respond to that.

I greatly respect the work you do and the wahine that you are - and I have absolutely no doubt of your ability to drive a discussion around the truth of what colonisation means for us.

In fact, not only do I believe we are ready to always hold discussions about race and colonisation, I think those discussions should be held regardless of whether some people are ready for them. We have been doing that already for a long time, and should continue to do so.

I do not believe, however, that we are ready to have this discussion in this way, through the lens of Cook celebrations.

While I have no doubt that you can drive a strong discussion of truth, I have absolute doubts of anyone's ability, in this system, to avoid the promotion of mistruth - both explicit and implicit - and what that means for future generations, as well as indigenous brothers and sisters around the world.

Those who are not ready will cherrypick what they want from these events - and apply it inappropriately. The evidence for that likelihood is all around us and it will advance the interests of the colonial project both here and overseas, no end.

What could possibly be worth that gamble? And who are we to even take it when so many others carry the risk.

We are strong enough to drive these discussions without needing to leverage off this event. We have a long legacy of work around justice, racism and colonialism that we can leverage off. Our voices. Our resistance. Our own calls for justice.