Tag Archives: Sir Mason Durie

Katerina Mataira, moe mai ra

Dame Katerina Te Heikoko Mataira has died. Dame Katerina’s contribution to the survival of te reo Māori was enormous. She was one of the driving forces behind the renewal of the reo following generations during which its use in the education system was officially punished, causing matua and kaumatua to become reluctant to teach it to their tamariki mokopuna. She did this largely by what are essentially traditional methods; by promulgating the Te Ataarangi immersion-teaching method. Most simply and perhaps most crucially, she used the reo, illustrating that it is a living language, coining terms in reo which previously existed only as loanwords or bare transliterations; the most famous is probably ‘rorohiko’ (literally ‘lightning brain’; computer). She was also one of few authors to write prose novels in te reo, among her other works.

Her passing made me think of what is probably the greatest recent achievement of Māori — the Kōhanga Reo and Kura Kaupapa Māori immersion schooling systems, which have probably done more for Māori cultural wellbeing than any other set of initiatives. Beyond a simple mode of communication, a language represents a store of knowledge which cannot be losslessly translated; it has encoded within it māori (in the pre-Williams sense of ‘normal’ or ‘ordinary’ rather than referring to a race) cultural and historical meaning; and its use enables its users to tap into that baseline culture, granting them access to a resource they cannot find elsewhere. Sir James Henare described te reo as “the core of our Māori culture and mana” and asked, “if the language dies, as some predict, what do we have left to us?” and further, “the language is like a cloak which clothes, envelopes, and adorns the myriad of one’s thoughts.” Sir Mason Durie, who quoted Henare, also argues that the struggle for te reo “typifies Māori determination to assert a positive cultural identity in a contemporary world” (in Te Mana, Te Kawanatanga, p59). Many others have described the importance of te reo to Māori; these are just examples close to hand.

Dame Katerina’s death brought kōhanga and kura to my mind not only for these reasons, but because they are exemplars of effective public policy delivered through and mostly by the communities they target. They are what, if we are very fortunate and work very hard, Whānau Ora could be like. Looking at their success and looking at the potential for similar achievements in other fields, it is disappointing that the left so dogmatically opposes more initiatives along these lines, deriding them as “privatisation of welfare”, or as “pork and puha politics for Tariana’s mates” before they’ve even gotten started.


Violating ourselves, redux

A long and largely futile discussion has been running in response to my latest post about the Treaty, and the responsibility that Pākehā have to honour it, according to our own standards of conduct.

This post is nothing more than a formal clarification of the argument. There are really only two contentious points of principle in my case, and they are the following:

(1) Whether the Treaty was materially breached.

(2) Whether honouring one’s agreements in good faith is, in fact, a philosophical baseline of Pākehā culture.

The first premise is the subject of a very considerable literature. The legal weight of the Treaty and its breaches have been exhaustively documented: authoritative accounts have been written by (at least) Walker; King; Belich; Kawharu (junior and senior); Durie (two of) and Orange; not to mention the reams and reams of material deliberated upon by the Māori Land Court and the Waitangi Tribunal. Treaty breaches are simply a matter of historical reality. Anyone who denies them is ignorant of the facts of the country’s history; is at odds with the views of every qualified expert in the field; the courts, and the official position of the Crown. If you don’t believe the Treaty exists in force and has been materially breached, you quite literally don’t know what you’re talking about.

The second premise is also the subject of a very considerable literature from within the European enlightenment tradition which also gave us the philosophy of liberalism which underpins most of our society — Locke, Mill, Smith, many others. Strong contracts are at the foundation of our pluralist-capitalist society, and in this system, strict enforcement of contracts is a fallback position when good faith and the honour of the two parties fails. Since there is no ultimate authority to enforce the Treaty of Waitangi and to compel the Crown to make good its breaches, as a matter of practicality it falls to the Crown’s adherence to its own stated principles.

If (1) and (2) are both true, Pākehā have a responsibility to negotiate with Māori in good faith to achieve a mutually satisfactory resolution of the breaches. This is my argument. It is not, contrary to the beliefs of those who appear to accept neither of these propositions, a very contentious one.