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Pub. Lecture On Treaty Issues & Cultural Identity

Advisory Auckland College of Education
17 March 2004

Scholar to give public lecture on Treaty issues and cultural identity


Prominent academic and 2003 Fulbright Senior Scholar Dr Elizabeth Rata has argued for nearly a decade that current approaches to the Treaty of Waitangi do not lead to justice for Maori, or put New Zealand on a sound footing as an ethnically diverse nation. They have in fact led to separatism and undermined New Zealand democracy.

On 23rd of March she will deliver a public lecture ""Maori and Non-Maori: Which Way Forward?" at Auckland College of Education.

Dr Rata identifies "culturalism" as the problem in our contemporary thinking about Maori issues. Supporters of culturalism believe that culture can only belong to those of a particular ethnic group - that Maori culture is for Maori ethnics, and European culture is for those of European ethnicity and so on.

Organising the country on ethnic membership lines underpinned by culturalism is a dangerous path that has led to anti-democratic practices in the government, in education (to justify separate Maori education) and other spheres of our society, according to Dr Rata. The creation of fixed boundaries between ethnic groups, with the potential for future conflict, should be of concern to all New Zealanders.

Dr Rata proposes an alternative approach to ethnic politics, drawing on a lecture given at Georgetown University, Washington during her Fulbright Scholarship.

An article outlining her views was recently published in the New Zealand Herald. It is reproduced below.

Seminar details: Tuesday 23 March 2004, 4.30 pm, Auckland College of Education, Epsom Ave, Epsom. Lecture theatre J2.

Biographical details:

Dr Rata teaches postgraduate studies at Auckland College of Education and is an honorary research fellow in the Department of Political Studies at the University of Auckland. Between September and December 2003 she was the Fulbright Senior Scholar at the Centre for Australian and New Zealand Studies, Georgetown University, Washington DC. She was a recipient of a 2002 Excellence in Tertiary Teaching Award. Her doctoral thesis (1996, University of Auckland) which first expounded her ideas on the anti-democratic nature of the Treaty of Waitangi settlement process, was titled: "Global capitalism and the revival of ethnic traditionalism in New Zealand: The Emergence of Tribal-Capitalism." In 2000 she published a book "A Political Economy of Neotribal Capitalism"which theorised the emergence of a Maori neo-tribal elite in New Zealand. Dr Rata's work has been published in several internationally refereed journals and in New Zealand journals in the areas of political science, anthropology, sociology and eduational

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Article published in New Zealand Herald 11 February 2004

"Each year the events of Waitangi Day remind us that New Zealand has not resolved troublesome issues between Maori and non-Maori. As a nation we have two choices if we are to make any progress. We can organise the nation according to ethnic membership or we can create a nation unified by cultural identity. The first choice is anti-democratic and dangerous. The second choice is our future.

It is possible to create social cohesion through a national New Zealand culture in ways that include and promote not only Maori culture but also the cultures of other peoples who make up this ethnically diverse nation. The path to social cohesion and national unity means a new way of thinking. We need to separate the concept of 'ethnicity' from the concept of 'culture'. 'Ethnicity' is a recent replacement for the older term 'race'. It means a genetic connection to a group of people. Ethnicity is 'who we are' in that genetic sense. 'Culture' is a completely different idea. It means 'what we do'. 'Culture' is our language, history, customs, religion and values. Ethnic belonging can't be shared with those who are not 'of the blood' but culture can be. Culture occurs as we live. It is transferable. You don't have to be ethnically Maori to be committed to the Maori language. You don't have to be Chinese or European to be committed to the values and practices that make up the cultures of these groups.

Once we separate the idea of ethnic belonging from cultural identity we are freed from the restrictions of history and able to move more freely into the future. Culture is not just about maintaining the traditional ways of the ethnic group. It is about creating the future. It is about making, not maintaining history. However we can't ignore the past. Many people feel a deep spiritual and psychological link to their genetic ethnic group. So how do we maintain the cultural identity of the different ethnic groups in New Zealand and at the same time create a national 'kiwi' culture with which we can all identity?

Those who believe that ethnic belonging and cultural identity is one and the same thing say that is impossible to integrate all the different cultures of our ethnic groups without losing the distinctive identity and mana of each culture.

According to this 'culturalist' view integration into a national culture means death for the minority cultures. They believe that Maori culture is for Maori ethnics, Indian culture is for Indian ethnics, European culture is for those of European ethnicity and so on.

'Culturalism' is the dominant way of thinking about Maori issues in many education circles. It is the reason that schools are encouraged to develop Maori cultural programmes for children of Maori ethnicity. According to this approach a strong cultural identity with one's ethnic group leads to educational achievement. But there are many factors that contribute to educational success. Cultural security is only one of these.

There are several serious problems with the culturalist approach. Each ethnic group becomes a distinct social category with its own requirements. This justifies the separate education system for Maori and separate Maori research based upon a Maori 'way of knowing'. In ethnic knowledge a link is established between a person's genetic inheritance and a socially created behaviour, namely, how one knows something. Linking social behaviours to racial inheritance is a dangerous path to go down.

A second problem is the creation of fixed boundaries between ethnic groups, particularly between Maori and non-Maori. These boundaries are increasing difficult to cross. Creating such boundaries has the potential for future conflict. When ethnic membership and cultural identity are put together in this fixed and separate way the reality of New Zealand's mixed ethnicity and mixed culture is ignored for an ideology that is, at heart, one of 'racial purity'.

How do we maintain the cultural identity of the different ethnic groups in New Zealand and at the same time create a national 'kiwi' identity? The answer lies in separating ethnic belonging from cultural identity. The next step is to promote the three main cultural strands that make up 'kiwi' culture. They are the cultures associated with indigenous Maori, settler-descendant and recent migrant groups. Importantly, the cultural strands are not the same as ethnic heritage nor do the strands equate to individuals.

The tendency in recent decades is for individuals of mixed Maori-other ethnicity to identify as Maori. There are many reasons for this. For some the status of being indigenous is psychologically appealing and offers pride in the unique position of Maori in New Zealand. For others Treaty of Waitangi settlements may offer economic hope. Yet others may self-identify as Maori if they have been identified as Maori at school.

Among those who believe that ethnic belonging is the same thing as cultural identity are those who go one step further. These neotraditionalists are determined to restore the traditional culture of the ethnic group. At best neotraditionalists play an essential role in restoring those parts of Maori culture, such as the language, that will contribute the Maori strand to a truly kiwi indigenous culture (although they reject this 'assimilationist' outcome). At worst, neotraditionalists are fundamentalist bigots obsessed with a 'blood and soil' ideology.

When culture is separated from ethnicity a person doesn't need to have the ancestry of an ethnic group to be committed to that group's culture. In this approach, the cultures of the ethnic groups who make up our nation, - indigenous, settler-descendant and recent migrant, are available to all, regardless of ancestry.

If we wish to make those strands available all three must be given status and recognised as important components of the national culture. This does not mean that all customs are acceptable. We are well rid of slavery and gender discrimination for example but have still to rid ourselves of other non-democratic practices such as birth-ascribed status.

If New Zealand culture is to continue to develop from the three main strands, some customs must be jettisoned, others promoted within a unifying and integrating framework of democratic principles. Continual adaptation has been underway since early contact between Maori and Europeans.

There is not a 'two worlds' division. The process is, as in all multi-ethnic societies, a constant mixing of ethnic make-up and cultural identification. A New Zealand culture is constantly developing. Our task in this century is to improve the process by including democratically compatible customs from the three constitutive cultural strands.

The Maori language is just one valuable part of Maori culture with which all New Zealanders may identify. The high value given to education in Indian and Chinese cultures is a taonga from that strand. The European commitment to social justice is a foundation stone of kiwi culture.

These cultural strands are already mixed in individuals. We need to acknowledge the integration that is constantly happening if we are to consciously create a valuable national culture."

ENDS

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