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Naked in Nuhaka: Envisioning Aotearoa New Zealand

Naked in Nuhaka 2004


The Naked in Nuhaka Essays 2004:
By Leo Koziol
February 27, 2004

Author's Note: This is the first in a series of articles that, over the coming months, will examine the concept of nationhood in Aotearoa NZ today. We are at a critical juncture in terms of race relations, economic development, and ecological futures. Our nation is on the brink. The political right is finding success in positing scenarios where the position of Tangata Whenua (the native peoples) will be seriously marginalised.

The sad reality is that this promises a Sleeping Dogs level of social disjunction that will make the 1981 Springbok Tour look like a beach vacation. Ecologically, we need to be seriously examining the potential for massive natural disasters -- such as the one witnessed only days ago in the lower North Island -- becoming the norm rather than the exception. At the same time, Aotearoa New Zealand is being presented on the world stage as a sophisticated, intelligent and spiritually engaged beacon of hope for the future. Is what defines us our past racial divisions and tensions, or the shared emotion of experiencing such common dreams as the Lord of the Rings magnum opus and the mythic social fable of Whale Rider? How might we envision Aotearoa New Zealand in the 21st Century? How might we steer a path towards Nationhood? How might we celebrate rather than deride this place we call home, our Aotearoa New Zealand?


LIVING OVERSEAS BACK IN THE 1990s, I always retained a perception of the Summer months back home being a sleepy time. People migrating to their baches, the news retreating to cute cuddly animal stories, long hot sunny perfect days of wall-to-wall cricket and tennis watching, not much going on. Oh, how times have changed.

January and February 2004 will be marked in Aotearoa New Zealand history as a point of significant shift in political, social, and cultural climates. A range of events over a very brief period of time demonstrate a nation in critical transition -- where things can quite simply tip one way or another. And I haven't even mentioned the weather.

The first strong signals of the potential for a major race-based conflict in our country became clear last year with the controversies over the foreshore debate. The High Court ruled that Maori had the right to apply to the Maori Land Court for customary title to foreshore and seabed. The tribe that had applied for the ruling was based in Marlborough, a South Island community with a relatively small Maori population (10% compared to 15% nationally) run by a conservative Unitary Local Authority (1) that had been notably reluctant in involving Maori in decision making processes (such as the pressures of marina and marine farm developments in the myriad Marlborough Sounds). The ruling Labour-Progressive coalition soon set out a proposed policy to overrule the High Court decision, and set on a path towards defining foreshore and seabed as being in public (and/or Crown) ownership. The government took their policy proposals to Maori.

I attended the government's first Foreshore Hui, held at Whangara, just north of Gisborne. This seaside Maori village is significant for being the film locale of the now world-renowned Whale Rider movie. Apart from the uplifting and authentic Maori welcome from the Turanganui-a-Kiwa/Ngati Porou peoples, the day at Whangara felt to me as scripted as a movie. The government representatives had their say without really providing clarity to their proposals, and the Tangata Whenua speakers sounded sadly like the many other disaffected indigenous peoples around the world who have found their cultural universe colonised and the stewardship of their natural resources taken away from them. This, ironically, in a place where about 80% of the coastline is still in Maori ownership and tribes like Ngati Kanohi (based in Whangara) are working toward sound and sustainable management of resources through the establishment of a Marine Reserve and replanting of their land in native forests.

The ultra right-wing Act Party dealt the first race card at the start of the year with a report outlining how Pakeha New Zealanders were subsidising Maori through their taxes. The report was found to be seriously flawed, got buried in the media, and got little political traction. A return visit to their website today ( finds the report either removed or buried away somewhere online.

Then came the speech of newly anointed National Party leader Don Brash in Orewa on January 27. I recall that I was sitting at home that evening casually surfing the Internet, somehow flicking over to the NZ Herald site, somehow finding myself reading that very speech perhaps minutes after its delivery (2). And I recall that I felt that the speech was important.

On first browsing, the speech seemed reasonably presented (Brash's academic epaulettes on display; certainly not Pauline Hansonite in tone) and the bits that seemed obviously "anti-Maori" seemed to me to actually be commonsense. Yes, we should be envisioning a day when we don't need a Ministry of Maori development, a day when Treaty claims are all resolved, a day when political tensions between Maori and Pakeha are resolved enough to see the integration of the Maori and Pakeha (General) electoral seats. The Maori seats, as I wrote in a column last May (3) have a sketchy history that was mostly about marginalising Maori (under the veil of "representation"); in my opinion Maori would be better off without them as they are a form of Pakeha-defined cultural Apartheid shared only by nations like Fiji and Israel (mine is not a view most other Maori share). So there is no question that we need to integrate our cultural and political worlds -- the important question is how we get to this new "Nationhood", and what might this nationhood comprises?

Rereading Dr. Brash's speech, I find it peppered with cliched notions that can be easily debunked by any kiwi with even a half-decent amount of education regarding Treaty issues and the history of Maori-Pakeha relations. This was at the heart of the meltdown of Maori leadership within the National Party. Maori National MP Georgina Te Heu Heu has been ungraciously shuffled to the sidelines for her well-founded disgruntlement, along with the skeleton Maori leadership of intellectuals Hekia Parata and Wira Gardiner. Brash's use of naive quotes by Sir Apirana Ngata in 1940 stating that that "in the whole world it was unlikely that any 'native' race had been as well treated by settlers as Maori" displays self-selected viewpoints that only serve to highlight his myopia.

The myopia became further apparent when Dr. Brash was asked what it is to be a New Zealander by Kim Hill on Television One. His knee-jerk reply was "Someone who lives here," until he realised: my wife wasn't born here, and neither were most of my children. He fudged the question, and offered this similarly myopic view in the NZ Herald (3):

"Q: You didn't have a coherent answer when Kim Hill asked you in a television interview what it meant to be a New Zealander. Do you have one now? A: You're right. I didn't. I started off by saying, "For starters, anyone who was born in New Zealand ... " And then I remembered that my first wife, my current wife and two of my three children were born outside New Zealand and that didn't make any sense so I stopped myself at that point. The answer I'd give in summary form is a New Zealander is someone who gets a lump in his throat when he flies back into the country after being overseas. And I guess that is shorthand for saying a New Zealander is someone who loves the culture, loves the land, loves the people, loves the fact that in New Zealand we are almost devoid of class structure, we are substantially free of racial tension, that someone who is the son of a person who works in an unskilled job in the parks and garden of a city council can become a law professor, and that is not true in many other societies. Maybe it is someone overseas who sings Pokarekareana when asked to sing a song. I don't think you can easily define a New Zealander but I think that's what I mean by a New Zealander."

Let's deconstruct Dr. Brash's response.

Look at the statistics on place of birth at the 2001 Census (5) and you find that among those stating themselves being of Maori descent, 98% stated they were born right here in New Zealand. The comparative figure for Pakeha (Non-Maori) New Zealanders is only 86%, for European New Zealanders a slightly lower 85%, and for Asian New Zealanders the remarkably low 22%. So if you take Dr. Brash's initial (admittedly rebuffed) response, it seems the most New Zealand of New Zealanders are people of Maori descent.

This is simple logic. Maori have been here for close to 1,000 years, and our population isn't derived from 200 years of (relatively recent) immigration.

Brash therefore decides to expand the notion of who we are to a cultural definition. That "lump in his throat" a kiwi gets when he flies back into the country. Whilst a seemingly fair definition, it smacks of a definition of "nationhood" that firstly derives from being from somewhere else, and secondly is founded on a "jetset" lifestyle that takes regular international travel for granted (i.e. the upper middle classes). Whilst it is easy to admit that the "OE" (Overseas Experience) is an important and relatively commonly shared experience of young, middle-class New Zealand, Dr. Brash disenfranchises the large working class populace (What PM Helen Clark terms "The Battlers") of our nation for whom international travel is a rare and privileged event, not a common and "nation-defining" experience. One envisions Pakeha New Zealanders in London's New Zealand House singing a poorly pronounced version of "Pokarekareana" or undertaking a buffoonish (and wairua free) haka and you're left asking: is this really what we want for the definition of who we are?

At the heart of what Dr. Brash has sparked is a culture war between three or four different social groupings in Aotearoa New Zealand today. When he critiques children in Blenheim being allowed to wear Maori "taonga" at school whilst Pakeha children can't wear a Christian cross, I respond: "Yes, you are right. And why can't the boys wear gel in their hair either?" (6) Dr. Brash criticises our secular Central Government which bans Christian prayer but allows Maori tikanga and sends kaumatua overseas to bless foreign consulate offices. And I respond yet again: "Yes, you are right!" For at the end of most (if not all) mihi (or Maori prayer) that I hear in this land, at both official and non-official events, the closing word is "Amine" -- a "Pidgen English" Maori transliteration of a Christian "Amen."

The three core social groupings in contestation for the formation of a national identity in New Zealand today are European New Zealanders (read: Establishment Colonialist British), Pakeha (read: Emerging Pro-Republican Post-Colonialist British), and Maori (the colonised emerging -- somewhat transformed -- from the veil of colonisation).

Let's take a look at the divergent viewpoints of these groupings, taking education as an example. The Establishment likes our single-sex schooling system, its uniformed pupils and its strict codes of teaching, and is wary of "radical" Treaty and Maori cultural teachings (7). Pakeha are "pro" (almost to the point of sad guilt) Treaty education, liberal arts education, mixed-gender schools and unstructured teaching environments. Maori are a mix somewhere in between these two -- establishment Maori send their kids to strict religious Maori schools like Te Aute and St. Joseph's, while at the other end of the spectrum are total immersion Maori pre-schools (kohanga reo) and primary/secondary schools (kura kaupapa) steeped in traditional tikanga while having a more "relaxed" Maori social behavioural framework (the Maori in the middle send their kids out to suffer state schooling).

There's probably a fourth social grouping in there somewhere (such as Asians and immigrants) and perhaps there's an argument that Maori are really two or three quite different groupings (take, for example, Maori who are ex-Australian immigrants or NZ First supporters who shy away from traditional tikanga and Maori politics) but its these three core groups that frame the debates regarding our political, social and cultural futures (in terms of Maori, our mainstream media does tend to lump us together as one). So it is the interplay of these three groups that will ultimately create the face of our future national identity -- our Nationhood. And it must be stated in strong terms that these three core groups -– including well-meaning Pakeha and Maori -– do not at all gel in terms of their visions for the future.

* * * * *

So Dr. Brash has sparked a national debate regarding nationhood, regarding our social identity. At the very least one can say that the one positive byproduct of such divisive talk is that its got us talking, and our media undertaking somewhat of a soul-searching of who we are.

The NZ Herald launched into such a discussion with its "What's Eating Pakeha?" expose last Saturday. For starters, I was positive both by the breadth of reporting in the paper and (quite importantly) the papers use of the term "Pakeha" to define European-descent mainstream New Zealand. That said, clear cultural bias was apparent. First of all, a quote on the cover of the paper was by a recently-immigrated British Police Officer. I found it quite glaring that an immigrant, likely resident here for a year or two if not months, is instantly presented as the voice of "mainstream" New Zealand. Maori? Well, they're in next week's issue.

A survey inside was similarly flawed. All the questions in a Herald-DigiPoll defined Maori needs as "special". "Do you think Maori have a right to be *specially* consulted by city councils and districts?" "Do Maori have the right to *special* treatment?" Such obvious marginalisation in a mainstream newspaper demonstrates how far we have to go. Take city and district councils. They are democratic institutions, put in place to represent ratepayers and residents of the areas they serve. Their Councils are democratically elected. They are there to serve the people. Frame the question then, to "Do you think Maori have a right to be consulted by Councils?" then logically the answer for most should be a resounding "Yes!" Oh, dear.

What needs to change is the underlying cultural framework within which we view ourselves. We are in a period of transition, but we still have a long way to go. There are reasons to be hopeful, and there are serious threats and challenges that need to be addressed. These threats and challenges will be the topics of a series of articles I will be posting to over the coming months. Social, economic, cultural, political, and ecological. I encourage you to send me your thoughts as each one is posted, my email address is I am certain your responses will shape what I write.

Let me leave you with one signal of hope for the future of Aotearoa NZ.

* * * * *

We live in interesting times. While our media has bombarded us over the past two months about the race relations mess, perhaps we've been a little negligent in paying attention to the amazing international recognition being lauded our creative film talent? A level of recognition that will come to an important culmination early next week.

On Monday, the Oscars will be handed out. I'm certain Peter Jackson will walk away with a trophy or two. I don't know if Keisha Castle-Hughes will win for Whale Rider, but I think her nomination (8) is an important honour for the wairua (spiritual presence) she has given to the world.

Last night I watched the late news and spotted Rawiri Paratene and Cliff Curtis suiting up for Oscar night at the Maori-managed Versace store in Auckland Tamaki Makaurau. Rawiri, when asked, proudly stated "Yes, Keisha will win!"

So I will watch the Oscars on Monday afternoon - Live on Sky! – praying that Keisha will win. I'll think back to my visit to Whangara, how the destiny of that town is connected to that of the young wahine on screen, to the same destiny of my people here in Nuhaka.

And when Keisha wins (9), Rena will be there to lead her up to the stage with a piercing karanga as Rawiri, Cliff and Temuera render a stirring haka in the aisles. They'll knock those Yankee's socks off. I'll cry. We'll all cry. They'll be Kiwis in Hollywood, Maori immersed thick and strong in the Global Media Matrix.

And they won't need Dr. Don Brash to tell them what it means to be an Aotearoa New Zealander in the 21st Century.

* * * * *


The Oscars


(1) Unitary Local Authorities are distinct in Aotearoa NZ in that they manage both regional issues (air, water, sea) as well as local ones (land and economic development). There are only four Unitary Authorities in our country: Nelson, Marlborough, Tasman, and Gisborne.

(2) Don Brash, "Nationhood".



(5) Available at:

(6) "Hairy Issues for Some Schools",1227,251137-1-7,00.html

(7) I purposely use the notion of schooling structures to reflect on these different cultural groupings to point out the importance of our early life in shaping personal (and therefore national) identity. Similar cultural disparities could easily be pointed out in other areas (e.g. attitudes to sport, TV viewing habits, travel preferences, etc).

(8) There was a hint of Keisha's nomination when I watched the post- Golden Globes show on "E" TV. Honourary Golden Globe recipient Michael Douglas positively glowed about Keisha when asked by the interviewer what was the most outstanding performance of 2003.

(9) I must call Mayor Meng Foon to plan the ticker-tape parade in Gisborne!


- ABOUT NAKED IN NUHAKA: Leo Koziol (Rakaipaaka, Kahungunu, email: writes on identity, culture, ecology and politics in Aotearoa NZ in the 21st Century. Nuhaka is located on the East Coast of the North Island of NZ. Mr. Koziol recently launched a new website that he recommends you check out, at

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