State of the Pākehā Nation — Jen Margaret
Ka pū te ruha, ka hao te rangatahi: change in the Pākehā nation
State of the Pākehā Nation — Jen Margaret
This year's Joan Cook Memorial Essay by Jen Margaret, commissioned by Network Waitangi Whangarei
Mid-2017: After listening to the news, my
six-year-old daughter suggested, “Mum, maybe you should
become Prime Minister.” Fresh from hearing Moana Jackson
speak on constitutional transformation the previous night I
responded, “Maybe you could be. When you grow up there
won’t be one Prime Minister – there’ll be a leader for
Pākehā, and Māori will have leaders for their side. You
could be the Pākehā leader.” Her emphatic “No”
puzzled me. “Why not?” I queried. Her response, “I
don’t want to be on the Pākehā side, I want to be on the
I get my daughter’s response, I’m often not that enamoured with the Pākehā side either, yet my entry to engaging with the Treaty was a political one which came with clear instruction from Māori and Pākehā mentors that to be useful in this work Pākehā need to be clear in our identity – to embrace it, not escape it. Therein lies the challenge, I thought on hearing her response, to make the Pākehā side, the “Pākehā nation,” an exciting and honourable place to be.
So what do we need to grapple with to make the Pākehā nation a compelling place for the children of my daughter’s generation? My response to this question is informed by my work as a Treaty educator which I began in the 1990s in Ōtautahi and continue now from my base in Te Whanganui-a-Tara. It’s a view from “middle New Zealand,” a reflection of my place as a middle-class, Pākehā woman raised by a farming father and school teacher mother on Kā Pākihi Whakatekateka a Waitaha (the Canterbury Plains), in the rohe of Ngāi Te Ruahikihiki. My daughter attends kura kaupapa Māori, and her way of seeing differs from mine. My reflection on the Pākehā nation draws inspiration from my daughter, from my mentors and friends in the Treaty movement, from workshop participants, from events of 2017, from American writer Rebecca Solnit’s work on privilege and silence, and from many Māori.
The Pākehā nation
The Pākehā nation is an unruly beast. Reflecting on the state of the Pākehā nation is therefore a daunting task that has made me query what the Pākehā nation is, as well as what it might be.
I employ the common usage of Pākehā which describes the diverse group of people who are white European, particularly of British descent. Our stories prior to arrival in Aotearoa are varied, as are our experiences since arrival – what we have in common is our privilege as beneficiaries of colonisation. Pākehā have a place in Aotearoa through the relationship forged in Te Tiriti o Waitangi – a foundational agreement of which most members of the Pākehā nation have scant knowledge.
The diverse space that is the Pākehā nation is critically shaped by the Māori world, an equally diverse place. The Pākehā nation exists only in relation to the Māori world; it is of this place – however poorly it has adapted to the conditions. As Ani Mikaere has said, “there is nowhere else in the world that one can be Pākehā. Whether the term remains forever linked to the shameful role of the oppressor or whether it can become a positive source of identity and pride is up to Pākehā themselves. All that is required from them is a leap of faith.”
The Pākehā nation is a contradictory place – predicated on privilege but with the potential for pride. To achieve the latter – to make the Pākehā nation something we might want to identify with – we must grapple with the former. Doing this requires Pākehā to shape themselves in response to this land and the people of it – to decolonise. This is no small project and to date Pākehā change has seemed glacially slow. Yet in 2017 there have been many catalysts which, when added to all the other efforts to date, have the power to accelerate change. Significantly, in October 2017 a new government came to power with more Māori in their ranks than ever before and a stated commitment to “Honour Te Tiriti o Waitangi as the country’s founding document.” Having this in writing is a big step. It provides both hope and challenge. Achieving this aspiration requires will, skill, leadership and vision from within the Pākehā nation.
“Pākehā – white European, particularly of British descent … what we have in common is our privilege as beneficiaries of colonisation.” There are a few words in my definition of Pākehā which many Pākehā are challenged by – white (“I don’t see colour”), privilege (“I’m not privileged”), colonisation (“I didn’t do it”). And that’s without mentioning the child of privilege and colonisation – racism (“I’m not racist!”).
All the bracketed responses are familiar to me, I hear them in my work as a Treaty educator. Work in which I am engaging people with the stories of Aotearoa – the commitments made in the Treaty that allowed Pākehā to come here, the devastating impacts of colonisation, and the action that is needed to address injustice and honour our commitments. Despite the aversion to it, discussing colonisation without talking about privilege and racism is telling half a story – the half that talks only of the victim and makes invisible the unearned benefits that Pākehā reap from colonisation.
I tell this family story in workshops to illustrate the workings of privilege. My great-great-grandfather Joseph Hastings Doyle was born in Scotland in 1840. He settled on the Canterbury Plains in 1863. The small town where he and my great-great-grandmother, Bessie Roberts, lived was named after him – Doyleston. Joseph was a supporter of Māori representation in Parliament, and a friend of Hori Kerei (HK) Taiaroa, the MP for Southern Māori, and his wife Tini Pana, who lived nearby at Taumutu. As an MP actively campaigning for the government to honour the commitments of the Canterbury purchase and other land deeds, HK Taiaroa was often away from home, and in his absence my ancestors looked after their property. In 1963 the Doyle family returned to the safekeeping of the Taiaroa whānau a pātiti that Hori Kerei and Tini had given to Joseph and Bessie as a symbol of their friendship.
It’s heavy engaging with the devastation of colonisation when you’re the perpetrator. I was heartened when Mum told me of these “honourable” ancestors. This year I learned more when I read Joseph Doyle’s obituary. In it he is described as a “Canterbury pioneer.” It notes his many skills, including in athletics. He regularly won prizes, and “Amongst other prizes he won at one memorable gathering on Lancaster Park, Christchurch, were two sections of land at Waterton … and this land he held to the time of his death.” Ngāi Tahu land as first prize for a running race. My ancestor got this land at a time when Ngāi Tahu were fighting for survival. This was part of the very land that HK Taiaroa was away in Parliament fighting for.
My wealth comes in part from my ancestor receiving that prize for winning a running race, and from the myriad of other ways over generations my family as Pākehā have been able to win the race. We benefit daily from systems shaped for our white ways – our language, our cultural norms – and this has been achieved while denying Māori the basic right to live and express themselves on their lands, in their ways.
While this story has elements that are out of the ordinary (Pākehā supporters of Māori representation were a minority in the 1860s and land was not always the prize for winning running races), it also reflects what is common to all Pākehā experience. Regardless of personal politics or wealth, as Pākehā we all benefit from the dispossession of Māori. There are no exemptions from Pākehā privilege. What’s more, we are trained not to see our privilege, not to acknowledge that it’s founded on robbing Māori. If we think of it at all, it’s as an historic rather than current, lived experience. Yet privilege is current both because of intergenerational transmission and because colonisation is an ongoing activity. The structures of colonisation have not been dismantled.
In workshops when we look at just a few examples of the thousands of legislative acts of colonisation and the thousands of actions of resistance and response from Māori to colonisation, most Pākehā have come with little, if any, idea of this violent, painful history. Privilege means Pākehā can get by without knowing our history. It is not our lives, our lands, our culture, under attack. The rivers whose lives are endangered by the pollution of waterways are not Pākehā ancestors, it’s not our people who are imprisoned at horrific levels, who die on average seven years earlier. It’s not our voice which has been silenced.
In A Short History of Silence, Rebecca Solnit writes, “A free person tells her own story. A valued person lives in a society in which her story has a place.” As Kiritapu Allan illustrated in her 2017 maiden speech, when she talked of her Nana’s experience in the native school system, colonisation is a process which makes Māori voiceless. Colonisation devalues Māori while elevating Pākehā ways and amplifying Pākehā voices. In doing so it destroys the potential of a power-sharing relationship of mutual benefit – the potential of the Treaty.
In constructing the story as colonisers, Pākehā have to justify the unjustifiable, so our story draws on fabricated narratives of colonisation – “We discovered this place,” “We made this place productive/great,” “Māori benefited from us bringing hospitals, schools, law and order.” These ideas are based on theories of the inherent superiority of white folk (like the Great Chain of Being) which many Pākehā disavow while holding firmly to patterns of thought which the theories have planted. While often articulated in more subtle ways than in the past, cultural racism – the innate belief that cultures have certain attributes that make some superior to others – is flourishing in Pākehā society. It both informs and provides a justification for our actions. It shapes our ways and props up our institutions – institutions still based on colonial ways, institutions in which racism is embedded.
The loss of winning
Rebecca Solnit has coined the term Privelobliviousness to describe how being the advantaged one, the represented one, means being the one who doesn’t need to be aware. Which as she says, “is a form of loss in its own way.” She talks of how being dominant “means seeing yourself and not seeing others” and how, in this way, privilege limits and obstructs imagination.
Winning the colonisation race – the race of cultural dominance – has generated huge imbalance and loss. Māori have been the most devastated, yet Pākehā too have been damaged. James Baldwin describes that the great force of history is “… that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do.” Yet most Pākehā don’t know the events of our history, or our place in them. We don’t know ourselves, our white ways, and we don’t know the ways of this land. We are poorly equipped to act well in the relationships that allow us to be here.
“If all New Zealanders did this Treaty workshop it would make a huge difference to race relations in this country.” This statement from an elderly Pākehā man from a rural community echoes those made in 2017 by former National and Labour Prime Ministers. As Jim Bolger said, “We should teach our colonial history, because we don't, and this is a huge mistake. You cannot know who you are as a society unless you know your history. Look out across the world and see the extraordinary divisions within societies. Frankly, the rise of white racism is partly because people don't understand their history."
Pākehā ignorance is coupled with British ways of operating that don’t fit here on Māori land. Economic models, relationships to land, and gender relationships intersect in multiple ways and are out of balance. In the words of Ian Campeau, “There are indigenous ideologies that don’t reflect colonial ideologies in any way shape or form, and it’s time to start looking at these different systems and these different ways of how communities worked, to see how we can go on as a working society because this seems to not be working for very much longer.” Re-centering indigenous ideologies is a core dimension of decolonisation. In the face of climate change and growing inequity, decolonisation is critical to the survival and health not only of indigenous peoples but of us all. For Pākehā, engaging with decolonisation means listening to and respecting Māori. It also means understanding the intersections of Pākehā privilege, colonisation and racism so that we can begin to unravel them and create other ways of being.
privilege – remaking the Pākehā
“The task of calling things by their true names, of telling the truth to the best of our abilities, of knowing how we got here, of listening particularly to those who have been silenced in the past, of seeing how the myriad stories fit together and break apart, of using any privilege we may have been handed to undo privilege or expand its scope is each of our tasks. It’s how we make the world.”
For Pākehā Treaty advocates there have always been two interrelated parts to our work – actively supporting Māori initiatives, and clearing barriers to Māori self-determination through working with our own. The former is often more energising, exciting work than the latter. Yet the “Pākehā mission” is necessary work, and Treaty education is a critical component of this mission as a means of shifting Pākehā will and skill for a working Treaty relationship.
Learning our stories – responses to Treaty education
“The Crown responded to peace with
tyranny, to unity with division, and to autonomy with
(Crown apology to Parihaka, June 2017)
In Treaty workshops, adult Pākehā are generally learning about the potential of the Treaty relationship and the devastation of colonisation for the first time. In part, the workshop is a myth-busting exercise which works to challenge a key premise of colonisation – the inherent superiority and rightness of Pākehā. It is the weaving of a story which often challenges participants’ foundational knowledge of this country and of their place in it.
Early on we bust the persistent myth of Moriori. For adults who have always believed it to be so, since it’s what they were taught in school and no one has told them otherwise, learning that Moriori weren’t here first turns many things on their head. Unpacking this myth isn’t just about correcting factual inaccuracy; it’s about analysing the reasons this story was constructed and the purposes it still commonly serves – of undermining Māori status as indigenous peoples and justifying the horrific acts of Pākehā colonisation.
Learning about this history is often challenging for Pākehā, as they “confront the unpleasant likelihood that other facts they think they know may be inaccurate, incomplete, and even morally problematic.” Not only does this learning often challenge foundational understandings, it also lets us see that these acts are for Pākehā benefit. Pākehā have an array of reactions to this learning – from denial, fear, shame and guilt, to a desire to know more and a passion to contribute to change.
Some people distance themselves from colonisation – “I didn’t do it” “My ancestors were Irish, they were oppressed too.” Rebecca Solnit’s insightful commentary on patriarchy and rape culture in the US aptly applies to colonisation and racism in Aotearoa. Just as all men benefit from the patriarchal structure supported by rape culture, all Pākehā benefit from colonisation. As Pākehā we want to distance ourselves from colonisation, while not seeing (or actively denying) that we all benefit from it.
In another form of denial, others want to talk about the positives of colonisation – “You’ve just talked about the bad stuff, surely there were benefits for Māori from colonisation.” My short answer is “No” followed by a reminder of the relationships between Māori and Pākehā in the early 1800s, in which there was a great deal of exchange for mutual benefit. These relationships were characterised by Māori holding the balance of power and the ability to control decisions – they reflect balance and consent. In contrast, colonisation is non-consensual, and designed to benefit Pākehā.
For some, this learning and the cultural shifts in Aotearoa invoke fear. This is a fear of not knowing, of being incompetent, of being left out, of being irrelevant. In the midst of the revolution in the Māori world, the fear of irrelevance is a real one for Pākehā who are poorly equipped to participate in the change. At the same time as Ngāi Tahu were celebrating the flourishing of initiatives, and their people, twenty years on from their Treaty settlement, I was in a group where Pākehā raised their concerns about saying “Kia ora.”
Other workshop participants feel guilt and shame
when they see the ways they benefit from colonisation. Their
shame comes too from having managed to get to adulthood
without this foundational knowledge of our history.
Denial, fear, guilt and shame and the negative responses they illicit in Pākehā can feel tedious and limiting. It’s critical in Treaty education, and elsewhere, that we address these emotions by naming what’s driving them and by responding – to denial with insight, to guilt with action, to shame with recognition, to fear with vision, and to irrelevance with getting with the programme!
An amnesty on ignorance
“It blows my
mind how little I know about the Treaty and its history,
despite having grown up in New Zealand. I wish everyone in
the country could attend a Treaty workshop!” (Workshop
Treaty workshops necessarily evoke disquieting emotions for Pākehā, yet most participants recognise the value of this learning and advocate for it. The most common response to Treaty workshops is “I wish I’d known. Why weren’t we taught this in school?” People (many, many people not just fringe radicals!) want to see a high quality, concerted, well-resourced educational effort across all levels. An assurance that this isn’t an optional topic with variable content, that it is a critical skill for living and working in Aotearoa.
Because of the lack of these learning opportunities to date, many people in senior government roles, and elsewhere, are missing a basic skill set to do their roles. While it’s not their fault that they didn’t learn about Te Tiriti and colonisation in school, it is their responsibility to learn now and to ensure all their teams do too. To achieve the government’s commitment to honour Te Tiriti, we need an amnesty on ignorance along with a concerted effort to create well-equipped citizens — people with the will and skill to promote cultural and institutional change.
As well as extended and continued efforts to bring adults up to speed, we need effective teaching in our schools. The Education Council’s standards and code of conduct, released in mid-2017, reflect an expectation that teachers will demonstrate a commitment to a Treaty based Aotearoa New Zealand. It’s a good start. Now it needs to be resourced.
For Pākehā, this education is not just about the past, but critically it is about how the past shapes us now. It is a weaving of our personal stories into the country’s stories, through understanding racism, privilege, and inequity alongside how we might contribute individually, organisationally and as a nation to honouring the Treaty.
Educationalist Ann Milne advocates for explicitly teaching Pākehā children about privilege, “…not to make them feel guilt — it is to make sure they do not grow up to perpetuate the situation. Knowing that our undeserved sense of entitlement and our unacknowledged privilege impact negatively on other people, and can be changed once we understand them, is a lesson our Pākehā children have the right to learn so they can contribute to a more equitable future, and do better than we have done in the past. We are selling our Pākehā children short if we don’t engage them in this learning.”
Being “really Pākehā” – becoming (small m) māori
Halloween 2017: It’s a
balmy spring evening and my daughter and her friend are
discussing how it’s way too hot to be dressed up in black.
“What were the British thinking? Didn’t they know that
when it’s winter there it’s summer
If adaptation to local conditions is understood as a skill for success and survival, Pākehā have done abysmally. And the consequences of this don’t serve Pākehā and are deadly for Māori. The British systems that were imported and plonked here were never made to fit, and continue to be alien to this whenua. It’s everything from our calendar and our place names, to how we understand health, education, and the justice system.
Organisations sometimes ask me to review their conceptual frameworks to determine their Treaty fit. When the models are imported it is often really hard to retrofit them. We need to do the foundational work of shifting the base to build ideas that respond from the outset to where we are. This doesn’t mean appropriating Māori thought, but the weaving of ideas and approaches.
“They are really
Pākehā” is an expression that friends and colleagues use
to describe people who are frustratingly white in their
ways. In this definition, people like Don Brash and Mike
Hosking are the epitome of Pākehā. I want to be in the
Pākehā nation – not least because there’s no place
else for me – but not that Pākehā nation. So that
means working on shifting these white ways and in doing so
creating/reclaiming what Pākehā might be – a diverse
people shaped by a relationship with Māori; a people
defined by living in Aotearoa and relating to Māori, not by
being in opposition to Māori.
For me, one of the reasons for trekking across town in the mornings to kura rather than walking to the local school is a desire for my daughter to become “really Pākehā” – to have the skills to work effectively across Māori and Pākehā contexts. These are not skills that we can pass on as parents, we didn’t get them growing up, yet they are the skills we need to live well in this place. It infuriates me, as I know it’s infuriated generations of Māori (and a growing number of Pākehā), that we can’t get that opportunity at our local school.
As I’ve said, my passion for Te Tiriti was ignited through a political education – one in which there is absolute clarity that being an ally is about being Pākehā, not trying to be Māori. Yet to be really Pākehā, we need to become more māori – to be shaped by this place and our relationships with Māori – so that we might be more normal, more ordinary, more suited to this place.
For a start this is about upholding Māori being māori here. Alongside this sits the work of Pākehā adaptation. These are interwoven tasks and there are a multitude of diverse examples to cite from 2017 alone, all of which arise from the on-going generous efforts of Māori, working with the openness of Pākehā. They include the on-going everyday use of te reo Māori words by Pākehā, to initiatives and approaches like Feminist Judgments, Wellington City Council moving their fireworks display from Guy Fawkes to Matariki, the array of initiatives by business to embrace te reo Māori, and the Te Awa Tupua legislation – the recognition of the legal personhood of the Whanganui River.
These are actions that disrupt the colonial ideas of “We discovered this place” and “We made this place productive/great.” They value and give space to the voices and ways of those who were here long before Pākehā. They reflect a weaving of worlds, a shaping of ways that honour our Treaty commitments, ways that are māori – that are normal or ordinary in this land.
“Undoing the social frameworks of millennia
is not the work of a generation or a few decades but a
process of creation and destruction that is epic in scope
and often embattled in execution. It is work that involves
the smallest everyday gestures and exchanges and the
changing of laws, beliefs, politics, and culture at the
national and international scale; often the latter arises
from the cumulative impact of the former.”
In the face of the weight and seeming intractability of the impacts of colonisation – inequity, Pākehā privilege, and cultural and institutional racism, it’s important to remember the power of everyday gestures. Of Pākehā individually and collectively listening, learning, acting, and influencing.
Recognising that there is a will to learn but still woeful ignorance within the Pākehā nation, we counter the denigration of Māori by daily acts of myth-busting and by amplifying the real stories – stories of Māori success and innovation, of Māori as loving parents, of the persistent collective generosity of Māori towards Pākehā.
We speak out against racism – in our homes, our communities, our workplaces. We make sure our children are being taught well in schools. We learn and share the ways in which Tāngata Tiriti organisations are engaging with Te Tiriti. We advocate for our politicians to act respectfully and to honour Te Tiriti. We assure those who need assurance that there’s nothing to fear – that Māori sovereignty is good for all New Zealanders – it makes us whole.
We support Māori initiatives – we donate, we turn up when asked, we share successes. We respond to calls for action on critical issues like freshwater, abuse in state care, and deep-sea exploitation; we support Māori political representation; we sort out our te reo pronunciation; we respect tikanga; we watch Māori TV; we enjoy Matariki events.
This isn’t the work of someone else, it is the work of all of us as Pākehā – whoever we are, wherever we are, with whatever tools we have.
We all win! – honouring Te Tiriti o Waitangi
“To be Pakeha in this generation is
sometimes to stand behind the goal line, scratching our
heads, waiting for the conversion, on the wrong end of one
of the great comebacks in cultural history, our coach
screaming possession, possession, possession. What we do
next will define us.”
I find these words evocative, yet I want to tweak the metaphor. To make the Pākehā nation a place to be, we need to call time on the competitive game of colonisation with its winners and losers, this game in which winning also means losing.
At a national level our new Prime Minister is the closest thing to a coach for the Pākehā team. Aligning her commitment to Te Tiriti with her qualities of compassion and her desire to do better, she can choose not to scream possession but rather to respond to the desire of many to call time on the competitive game. That’s what honouring Te Tiriti requires.
Matike Mai Aotearoa have provided timely
suggestions for the changed game. Their work envisages a
“conciliatory and consensual democracy rather than an
adversarial and majoritarian one.” Cooperative and
consensual ways of working move us into different,
respectful ways of being – ones that propel us forward
while returning us to the original promise of a relationship
of mutual benefit. This is transformative – it shifts from
a conversation, perceived by Pākehā, of Pākehā losing
and Māori gaining power (though that is one angle on it) to
a vision of relationships and society in balance. Critical
too in this rebalancing is the need to address the
relationships between Pākehā and all other tāngata Tiriti
within the kāwanatanga sphere.
To engage in discussions about a different game we require courageous and visionary leadership. We need leadership that cares about the needs and aspirations of future generations more than the concerns of a vocal minority of Pākehā of current generations. We need the government to act consistently and honourably and not, for example, saying it wants to honour the Treaty while continuing to permit exploitation of the whenua against the wishes of iwi. I look forward to this government finding conciliatory ways to respond to some of the seemingly intractable issues in the Treaty settlement process, and seriously engaging with the implications of Te Paparahi o Te Raki report.
This different game requires direction and support both from tāngata whenua and from tāngata Tiriti. In 2017 Action Station drew together many voices to articulate a vision to sit alongside the work of Matike Mai Aotearoa. It includes these words:
2040 Aotearoa New Zealand will be a fair and flourishing
country with care, creativity, courage and compassion at its
core. We will honour Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the rights of
indigenous people in our constitution, our institutions and
in everything we do… Every person in Aotearoa New Zealand
understands and respects Te Tiriti as our founding document,
understands the harm done by colonisation in our country,
and works to heal injustices and to see Te Tiriti
This vision captures the aspirations, and values the skills, of my daughter and her peers. Their aspirations are to live well in this land and for this land to be well. Their skills are skills to work across worlds while being strong in their own.
It is a
vision in which the Pākehā nation, as a subset of tāngata
Tiriti, works cooperatively and consensually with Māori. It
is place of balance and health. It is an honourable nation
within a diverse and flourishing country. It is a nation
that I want to be part of and that my daughter does too.
This essay is dedicated to my mother, Leona Fay (1936-2017), who instilled in me the belief that we all have a role in making the new net. E tōku whakaruruhau, e kore e mimiti te aroha mōu. Moe, moe, moe mai rā.
My thanks to Hannah Northover and Alexandra Keeble for their feedback on drafts of this essay.
E ngā ringa tōhau nui, kāore e oti taku mihi ki a kōrua.
About the author:
Jen Margaret is Pākehā, of Cornish, Scottish, Danish and German ancestry. Her ancestors arrived in Te Wai Pounamu in the 1860s. Raised near Leeston on the Canterbury Plains, in the rohe of Ngāi Te Ruahikihiki, Jen was a late learner about the Treaty of Waitangi, first engaging with it at university in the 1990s. Since then, she’s been active in Treaty work.
Change, Jen works with individuals and organisations to
deepen understanding and application of the Treaty. A
recipient of Winston Churchill and Loxley Fellowships, she
has researched the work of non-indigenous allies locally and
internationally. She is the author of Working as allies: supporters of
indigenous justice reflect (2013) and Ngā Rerenga o Te Tiriti: Community
organisations engaging with the Treaty of Waitangi