The beginning of the end of an error

There were no winners in Kim Hill’s interview with Don Brash this morning. Not Kim, and not Don, not Guyon Espiner’s unflinching use of te reo on Morning Report, and certainly not the people of Aotearoa. Pākehā liberals wanted the bloodsport spectacle of their champion vanquishing the doddering spectre of our reactionary past, and Pākehā right-wingers craved the sweet outrage of Hill’s rudeness and dismissive scorn towards people like them. Māori people mostly were just dismayed at Brash getting a platform to debate the value of their existence, again. Everyone except for Māori got what they wanted, but nobody got anything more.

In a way, this morning was a last gasp of credence for the notion that debate is possible with people who are oblivious to evidence. Kim got in her zingers, ably skewering Brash’s incoherence and inconsistency, but there’s nothing new there. All the evidence was as incidental as it was anecdotal. We were treated to discourses on the population density of Māori in proximity to kindergartens, based on nothing at all. Concerns about the use of te reo on RNZ cannibalising the audience of Māori language radio and TV stations, without any reference to what those flaxroots practitioners of te reo want. And discourses about actual cannibalism and the stone-age pre-settlement society, where listeners were asked to accept the claim that the deliverance of the Māori from their horrid existence was worth any price, up to and including their cultural erasure. Nobody who has given even modest consideration to these topics could have learned anything or changed their views this morning.

The discussion mocked the very rationality it sought to demonstrate, because it was all about feelings: Brash’s feelings of alienation from his country and his time, and Hill’s need to defend her employer and her worldview. Centred around Pākehā feelings, with no regard given to what Māori felt, or for their agency, it was merely the latest in two hundred years of discussions about Māori, without Māori.

It was a question of evidence that brought the interview to an end, though. Brash finally went one small step too far, with the claim that the Māori are not the indigenous people of Aotearoa, but merely its second-most-recent invaders. This notion has been debunked for almost a hundred years, since Skinner’s work on the Moriori in the 1920s, and there was enough scholarship done on it through the 20th Century that reliance on these claims in the 21st is a straightforward flag that whatever is going on here, it’s not an evidence-based discussion. There was nowhere left for Kim Hill to go. Nobody can debunk arguments advanced with such disregard for reality.

So she shut it down. But better than shutting it down would have been not entertaining it in the first place — which is, by and large, what Māori seem to have wanted. The error of this interview was not merely giving Brash a platform, but its objectification of Māori, the idea that their right to existence on their own terms was a matter for debate. It was an exercise in discursive theatre, a ritual sacrifice performed to appease the savage gods of fair-minded middlebrow liberalism, in the hope that rational discourse will deliver us into salvation. The sacrificers — yes, Kim Hill was one of them — were Pākehā, and inevitably, the sacrificees were Māori.

I was in the crowd for this sacrifice. Loath as I am to continue focusing on Pākehā feelings, I have to say: my only remaining feeling is the horror of being responsible for all this. Not only for today’s sacrifice, but the small sliver of the past that is my contribution to what got us here. We Pākehā need to take care of our own embarrassments, it should not fall to Māori to do that. So we need to stop treating the right to Māori existence on their own terms as conditional on our goodwill, and start treating it as a fact of life. Which, in the letter and spirit of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, is what it is. It’s not hard to do. When people want to debate the legitimacy of te reo Māori in public, here’s a simple response: “Like the right of Māori people’s physical existence, the right of Māori people to cultural existence is not a matter for debate.” We have, in polite society at least, stopped talking about “maoris”. We have stopped mocking haka, waiata, and karakia, and even people like Brash have stopped mocking te reo, making honest attempts at decent pronunciation and using what kupu they know in ordinary speech. We can stop treating the existence of Māori as debatable, too, and it’s about time we did.


18 thoughts on “The beginning of the end of an error

  1. I mentioned this upcoming interview to a middle aged white male project manager in my office. I soon regretted it. I discovered that not only does he hold to the view Maori were not here first, he also in our far ranging but short diversion into politics mentioned Benghazi, Hillary’s guilt, the criminality of the Manus island detainees as outlined by the Australian security services, and his support for Trump because he socks it to the liberals, hahahahaha!

    I was shocked that the the canker of the US culture wars has gone so deep, even here. What is it with men over fifty and their need to believe these fairy tales? What does it say about their insecurities? Is it a cultural future shock?

  2. A pretty sharp, well educated, well spoken (in an upper class Brit way) well traveled 90-something acquaintance, raised on a prosperous cattle station in NSW. She has lived here for about 60 years. She still says ‘Maoris’. I have told her a dozen times there is no plural and every time she just shrugs and changes the subject. When I asked if there were Aboriginal workers on the farm she said yes, but they lived in shacks far from the house. She saw only one up close, working in the garden, “and he had such funny skinny legs we all laughed at him”. I’ll leave you to imagine her rabid opposition to an H in Whanganui.

  3. “We Pākehā need to take care of our own embarrassments”

    Who are you to presume to speak for pakeha. There is a myriad of different opinions on these issues, and yours is only one of them.

    Feel free to submerge yourself in your own psychotic white guilt but please recognise the fact that there are thousands out there who do not buy into this world view and in fact reject it in its entirety.

    Speaking for myself, I regard this current obsession with race, and with the past, by some NZers, to be the most destructive phase in our recent history. It must be stopped or there will eventually be a terrible outcome.

    The cluster of leftists who are bent on perpetuating this mood in our country are possibly one of the most evil and dangerous political forces this country has faced. I despair at their ignorance. Their ignorance of NZ’s real history, and their ignorance of what they are doing to the country.

    They’re like jackals with the smell of blood in their nostrils.

  4. Sigh. I tried to listen to it. Had to turn radio off as Brash reiterated opinions I heard as a school boy. I am 75.
    Brash is a well educated idiot, would be well at ease with Treasury denizens

  5. I think you’re being a little generous if you are specifically including Brash amongst those “making honest attempts at decent pronunciation” – whānau = ‘farn-ow’ etc.

    Also: interesting that ‘Redbaiter’ above wants to speak for him/herself but isn’t brave enough to use their real name :P

  6. I missed this, but taking the opportunity to decry frequent collapsing of Maori as a unique entity into a single category – “Maori, Pasifika, and Asian”. This is a (European) Pakeha-centred category inconsistent with the Treaty.

  7. Is it me or is this just a bit overdrawn? Brash is an unreconstructed racist, pure and simple, at least when it comes to Maori (given his proclivities). It could be as simple as him being bullied way back when by some brown fellas. Or he lost out in some of his otherwise privileged place to a Maori. It is that simple: his prejudice is visceral, not considered. No more and no less.

    The media needs to stop giving air time to this fool simply because he adds nothing to the rightwing argument about anything.

  8. “Brash is an unreconstructed racist,”

    Marxist claptrap.

    Brash is merely a man who objects to demographic and cultural change being forced upon him. As any man from any country might object, whether that country be brown black white or any colour.

    The real reason for the annoyance he has caused in NZ’s far left social circles is because he is from a different generation, and the Lizzie Marvellys of this world do not understand that when Brash grew up the education system had not declined to the atrocious state it has today.

    Rather than being indoctrinated he was given the means to think for himself. Not told what to think. Therefore he reasons. He even thinks the freedom to speak out on issues still exists. Silly old codger.

    Sure, he doesn’t know the world has changed, but many from his generation suffer that same problem. They think they live in the world they grew up in. They don’t realise now their are severe social penalties for speaking your mind or having thoughts that don’t conform to progressive orthodoxy.

    Don’t worry though Progressives. Don Brash and his educated mind and his silly ideas on freedom of expression will die out soon, and eventually the world will be all yours. Won’t that be wonderful?

  9. Kim Hill won hands down and I’m glad Brash got egg over his face. When she ditched Brash she left his racist views in the ditch where they belong. We need to recognise our shameful colonial history. If we don’t reflect on it we can’t change the future. My ancestors were surveyors and settlers but without Māori helping them and paving the way before their arrival my ancestors wouldn’t have survived and I wouldn’t be here today. It is time to pay our dues and show respect for all the people of this land. We have so much to lose if we don’t learn Te Reo and know our history. We have so much to gain when we step up in knowledge and respect.

  10. This Te Reo stuff is pedantic arrogance on the part of announcers deciding to use it.Its a form of brainwashing many people despise but are too afraid of objecting to in case they are labelled racist.We would all accept this Maori stuff If as a race they behaved themselves a lot better.Don Brash deserves credit for opening up the Te Reo stuff and his interview with Kim Hill was exceptiional.

  11. Er, excuse me, just exactly what is wrong/offensive about heraing two official languages being used on our radios?

    There is no “correct” pronunciation of any language, anywhere, at any time.

    “correct pronunciation” is a verbal weapon used to define class, ethnic, tribal, religious, and any other cultural variable. Usually to establish a cultural superiority.

    Ask any linguoistics student.

  12. If we accept the proposition that the intended audience of RNZ is, by and large, Pakeha, it still leaves open the question of whether there should be some, or even a good deal, of te reo used in its broadcasts. To my mind the answer has to be in the affirmative, because Maori culture and language are central to the Pakeha sense of national identity, as, indeed, they have been since the mid-nineteenth century. So it is not a case of the interests of Maori being placed before the interests of Pakeha. Indeed, Pakeha stand to benefit most when Maori language and culture is promulgated through the mass media and other social institutions, and it is clear that if Don Brash is speaking on behalf of anyone, it is the European immigrant population, and not the native Pakeha population. The distinction between the two is real and important. Brash represents a colonial/imperial order which really only became fully established at the end of the nineteenth century and which has now pretty well run its course, leaving Maori and Pakeha to determine the shape of the new order which is to replace it.

  13. “if Don Brash is speaking on behalf of anyone, it is the European immigrant population”

    Wasn’t Brash born in Whanganui and raised in Christchurch?

  14. Regardless I think this supposed dichotomy between European immigrants and “native” Pakeha (realistically, still immigrants, just of less recent pedigree) is pretty baseless. There are plenty of born-and-bred-in-NZ Pakeha who not only refuse to engage with Maori but actively avoid it; there are plenty of British (and Irish, and Swedish, and Russian) immigrants who make an effort to learn a bit.

  15. In reply to Erewhon:
    It is an important principle of our culture that those of mixed heritage can identify themselves as either “Maori” or “Pakeha”, and those of other ethnicity can identify themselves as “Pakeha” or “European” or other.
    Through the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries most British immigrants (and even many descendants of immigrants) described themselves as “British” and the term “New Zealander” was generally reserved for native New Zealanders, whether Pakeha or Maori. In other words, from first contact with the British empire there have been “British immigrant” and “native Pakeha” mindsets in this country and for better or worse that remains the case today.
    Regardless of his place of birth, it is clear from his arguments that Brash was speaking on behalf of the “European immigrant” population. It is also arguably the case that he identifies himself as such.
    On the other hand, as you point out, “there are plenty of British (and Irish, and Swedish, and Russian) immigrants” who closely engage with Maori culture in the manner of Pakeha. Although they may not be natives in the normal sense of the word, they are in spirit Pakeha natives because they are effectively “born again” of this land and this sky.

  16. “It is an important principle of our culture…”

    I guess I was out taking a whizz when we all agreed on the important principles of our culture.

    Regardless when you said “the European immigrant population and not the native Pakeha population” it seemed pretty clear the distinction you were drawing. If you include “spirit Pakeha natives”, and I guess “spirit European immigrants” it might be a good to clarify at the outset.

    I object in principle to the use of the word “native” to describe Pakeha. A Pakeha can learn about the Maori language and about Maori culture but he can never truly be part of it. The term “native” must be reserved for the indigenous Tangata Whenua. Anything else is appropriation.

  17. In reply to Erewhon:
    Cultural principles, unlike legal principles, do not require explicit consent. However the principle in question has also been recognised in New Zealand law, which does have explicit consent (from the monarch and parliament). You personally may not agree with the principle, but I don’t think you can deny that it exists as a legal and cultural principle irrespective of your own views on the matter.
    You may also object to the use of the word “native” to describe Pakeha. Again, that is your personal prerogative. However in doing so you must discount the opinion of those who compiled the Oxford dictionary and those who in the nineteenth century founded the “New Zealand Natives Association” (now defunct?) to represent the views not of Maori but of New Zealand born Europeans or Pakeha.
    “Tangata whenua” refers to the people of the land, meaning not the entire motu but actually tribal rohe. So it is not synonymous with either “Maori” or “native” despite a recent tendency to use it in that sense.
    Your assertion that “native” “must” be reserved for tangata whenua is an opinion which you might wish to impose on others, but for which there is no good cultural or linguistic justification.
    Your claim that “Pakeha can never truly be part of Maori culture” would surprise some of those Pakeha who have been embraced by Maori hapu, become fluent in te reo and fully conversant with tikanga. I don’t see the point in such an assertion. It reminds me of the old imperialist dictum “East is east and west is west and ne’er the twain shall meet”. The twain can meet, they do meet and in my opinion they should meet.

  18. Your first three paragraphs are not arguments they are just your opinions. In the fourth paragraph you score a point against Don Brash, a point which doesn’t decide the argument.Paragraph five is more opinion (not argument).
    In the final paragraph you give an essentialist view as to what is *Maori*.
    We (now)live in a country in which we have a separation of nation and state. That means state resources go to groups which may or may not have interests in common, therefore you shouldn’t be surprised if non Maori don’t want Maori lessons with their news service; it is encroachment. What’s more (speaking for myself) I do not accept the authority of those who seek to change New Zealand society in an underhanded manner, through stacking it’s institutions and de-platforming opposition.
    The Treaty means whatever *they* want it to mean. In fact Maori had no clue about the future demographics. You could hardly claim it was fit for the future.

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