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Marc My Words - Maori Rights and Wrongs

Marc My Words - Maori Rights and Wrongs

By Marc Alexander

This year's Waitangi Day did not celebrate our nation's unity but our dis-unity. The fractured relationship between Maori and non-Maori has plumbed new depths spurred on by both the seabed and foreshore issue and the line in the sand posed by National's leader Don Brash.

The separatist treatment of Maori that has seemingly resonated amongst the public has sadly been supported with extreme behaviours by those who have resorted to abusive language, threatening actions, and churlish protest. They inadvertently play into the hands of those who argue that Maori have become the spoilt children of our society.

It is precisely these excesses that the public are so fed up with. The main focus has been lost under the baggage of the never-ending Waitangi gravy train. New Zealanders are nothing if not fair people. We abhor injustices and generally have been on the front foot in trying to do something about it. Unfortunately we have been handicapped on the race question because it is seen as a race question. Non-Maori are inevitably tarred as racist for even daring to question Maori issues, whereas anybody who claims the merest trace of Maori lineage is given carte blanche to speak out. There is a current perception that the minutest hint of Maori blood is of such potency as to reduce an otherwise typical human being into one 'needing' special attention through privileged state intervention.

How is it that someone like Tariana Turia can use the term 'holocaust' and exhort all non-Maoris as 'visitors', claiming a plethora of rights for her people when it escapes her that were it not for her native American father, she would not be here to claim anything?

Clearly, we are a people still grappling with our sense of identity. While we are an increasingly multi cultural society, (and apart from our historical 'infancy' no different ethnically than other countries), it is Maori who give us our unique difference. That difference should be one of our strengths, a source of historical identity of which we should be proud, a distinctive foundation underpinning our ethnic diversity.

For Maori to provide that strength however, Maoridom must stand on its own legs. But it can not to do so if pandered and pampered with policies and largesse over and above that of any other group in our population. For example the nonsense in setting up the troubled Maori TV is nothing more than a demeaning exercise in ideological futility. It is tokenism of the very worst sort; it has the capacity to divide rather than unite us.

Nothing Brash has said is new. Many, including Maori, share his view, if not as excessively expressed. It is no coincidence that he raises the issue at a time when his party needs a defining issue to grasp media space. But while many agree that public debate is necessary, (if for no other reason than to flush out the violent undercurrents that separate us), truth is often the first casualty when knee-jerk opinions become entrenched with populist rhetoric.

Brash, 'drunk' from his vulgar celebrity amidst the thirsty appetites of the media, has started to believe his own spin despite the facts. It was he who replaced a Maori bias with a non-Maori bias when he stated that he would hire a pakeha over a Maori of equal merit on the claim that Maori could claim 'unlimited tangi leave'. That his assertion was incorrect didn't faze him. The new Holidays Act, (which is bad law for other reasons), makes no mention of special privileges to Maori.

Also lost in the debate are the many gains made by Maori in recent times. These have nothing to do with handouts, costly racially based spending or the patronising politically correct policies of historical apologists. Maori unemployment has fallen to record levels, Maori enrolments at tertiary institutions is increasing at four times the rate as for non-Maori, and Maori university graduates have more than doubled since 1990. While the economic participation and educational status of Maori are key to the future of Maori culture and contribution to society, we cannot be blinded by the deplorable crime and health statistics that undermine our Maori population. These blights should not be addressed on racial grounds, but on needs where Maori are over-represented. Much has been made of race-based health spending and while it is true that around 2% of the total health budget is targeted

There are inequities and both sides of the debate have reason for complaint. Maori grievances should be properly heard and addressed, as do the grievances of non-Maori who are sick and tired of a process that has dragged on far too long. They see little application for historical wrongs in today's world when the participants who caused them are now bone and dust. Certainly it is unhelpful to have treaty principles inserted into laws when no one seems capable of identifying what they are or even their relevance. The protracted settlement procedure has been hijacked by a seemingly self-serving elite intent on amassing wealth, power and importance. They can be identified as the real villains. The legitimate pursuit of righting past wrongs seems to be their lesser objective. It is that which the public, Maori and pakeha, are rightly angered by. The thin ice of public patience is crackin

We are many cultures but one people. To elevate one ethnic thread of our national cultural fabric in law is an affirmative action that creates social disharmony. Our past must be dealt with, but not at the expense of our children's future. Whether intended or not, Brash has articulated a destination for race relations by ignoring the past and not providing even one constructive idea on how to get there.

We cannot be held hostage by history but neither should we sweep it under a rug of forgetfulness. Nothing just can come from the creation of a new injustice that purports to rectify an old one, real or imagined.

The relationship between those who identify themselves as Maori and the multi-cultural rest must move on and forge a beneficial future based on what is rational not racial.

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