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Xenophobia or a Lack of National Identity

INTERNATIONAL REFUGEE DAY – Christchurch 20 June 2002
(Address by Gregory Fortuin – Race Relations Commissioner)

It is important not to address the issues surrounding migrants and refugees in isolation. Ordinary citizens need to be informed as to the strategic importance of new settlers to our shores, be it for economic or humanitarian reasons. That is a discussion for another day. By the same token new settlers should understand the unique identity of their new homeland in order to make a successful transition. It is this unique identity I wish to address today.

The core racial challenge today is not so much Xenophobia, or for Pauline Hanson’s benefit, a fear of foreigners. It is more the fact that we are insecure about our own national identity. In this modern world where Globalization is king and integrated economies have become the glib buzzwords, the need for a national identity is an urgent and desperate priority. Unless we know who we are, or at the very least whom we want to be, we will muddle along with our imaginary fears and phobias. It is time we had the robust discussion in order to clearly articulate our vision. To quote the wise old man: “where there is no vision people perish”.


It is critical that we adopt a strategic approach to agreeing and articulating a common vision. Doing nothing and hoping to get there by default is futile. If you are going nowhere then any road will get you there. In the process we must deal with the past, since the past not dealt with will forever hang as an oppressive cloud over all our tomorrows. However, we must not get stuck in the past. Instead, we must fix our eyes firmly on the future and apply remedies that will facilitate and not hinder nation-building.

At my select committee appearance following my appointment 12 months ago I stated that analysis of our complaints suggested 2 major areas of strife. The first was around the question of the Treaty of Waitangi and the second had to do with our changing demographics and the issue of diversity. These two issues hold the key to harmonious relations.

The Treaty should be seen as a beacon of unity and not exploited as a divisive document. Yes, we have failed miserably with regard to educating the public at large concerning the horrific breaches of the treaty and the need to settle these grievances. Yes there is evidence of a grievance industry being exploited by fat cats. But this abuse or failure to educate does not nullify the Treaty or make the grievances less valid. Settling grievances is not just about paying compensation. It is more about firstly acknowledging the wrongs of the past and then trying to make reparation that will facilitate future progress. Unless reparation takes us forward, it will do more harm than good.

Settling grievances is a big step forward, but far from a common misconception that we have now “bought out the contract”. 162 years ago the colonizers entered into an agreement with Maoridom. To secure our future as a nation, we must resolve how to respect this agreement in a meaningful way in a 21st century democracy. I don’t believe the answer lies so much in the various legal interpretations of the Treaty, but the pragmatic relationships around the Treaty. However, no one has a monopoly on solutions. The one thing I am totally sure of is that Kiwis with a settler heritage will never be what they ought to be until Kiwis with a Maori heritage are what they ought to be and vice versa. Although New Zealand consists of two primary islands and many complimentary islands it is known as one country. By the same token the future viability of this country depends on the two primary peoples and the many complimentary peoples becoming one nation.

That takes me to the second pillar in the vision. That of harmonized diversity. Cloning and assimilation are garbage and hypocritical. I challenge anybody to show me how the early settlers assimilated. I have already mentioned dealing with the wrongs of the past, but the Settler history also demonstrates a major positive contribution to this nation. We must tap into the best that everybody has to offer. We must see diversity as a strength to be embraced and not to be feared. Again I wish to stress that diversity must be harmonized, like the different strings on the guitar playing off the same hymn sheet and making music together. Not just diversity for diversity sake.
I see harmonized diversity in the rainbow. The majestic beauty of the rainbow does not lie in it becoming one monolithic mass of gray. Neither is there any beauty in the red in the east, the blue in the west and the green way out north. The magnificent beauty lies in its perfect harmony, curving and bending in unison.

For brevity sake I will quickly mention the final 3 pillars of my hypothesis for a national identity.

Thirdly it is the principle of a fair go or equal access and opportunity for all. We might not all be equal in a materialistic sense, but with regard to the dignity and sanctity of life, we were all created equal. Every human being who graces the shores of Aotearoa should at all times be assured of that equality. There are no 2nd or 3rd class citizens.

My fourth pillar I would call Kiwi Ingenuity. The ability to be creative, nimble and fleet of foot and punch way above our international weight. This characteristic should not just apply to scaling Mt Everest or producing Lord of the Rings or exporting live Tuna fish. If we accept this as one of our national characteristics, it must be reflected in our education system, the way we do business, government and all aspects of life.

My fifth and final pillar is the fact that we are a clean green paradise in the Pacific. We should work hard to maintain our indescribable beauty and never take it for granted. In addition we should play a strong leadership role within the Pacific. Leadership does not imply arrogant superiority, we know best. Instead it should be to facilitate the process that will pool the complimentary skills and resources of the Pacific into making it a flourishing and respected region.

I have tried to articulate my vision of New Zealand’s unique identity in order for all migrants and refugees to better understand our place within it. This is not an agreed list, but my sincere attempt to stimulate your thoughts. I now wish to conclude with 3 bits of advice to all new settlers.

Firstly. We have to accept in our hearts and minds that we have left our countries of birth. This is not Cape Town or Singapore or London. It is Christchurch. Unless we get our heads around that fact, we will frustrate our selves and even worse we will irritate the locals at our peril.

Secondly. Be good citizens (small c). I am not talking about the piece of paper and passport in 3 years time. I am talking about being involved in your community, your street, your child’s school, your church, and the associations in your neighborhood. Be a constructive participant and not a spectator or even worse a bludger.

Thirdly and finally, you might have left your country on birth, but there is no need to sell out on your birthright. You had no say in who you are, it is a precious gift. Don’t ever apologize for your heritage… celebrate it and find ways where it can enrich your new homeland. Never allow anybody to strip you of your sense of selfworth and somebodyness because you are a migrant or a refugee. Dignity is what you carry in your inner being, not a label others bestow upon you or strip from you.

And so today on International Refugee Day, I say to all those who have come to seek refuge, safety and prosperity in the “Land of the Long White Cloud” Walk with your heads held high and pursue those opportunities that will allow you to make your unique contribution to this wonderful country.

A unique country, which I have defined as :
A Treaty based Pacific paradise where we celebrate harmonized diversity and are characterized by Kiwi ingenuity and a fair go for all.

Embrace and enjoy the Kiwi experience.

I thank you.

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