Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Relating to aboriginal peoples

Dear Friends,
The image here is of Jeff and me at our local marae, or Maori centre. We were attending Matariki, the celebration of the New Year.

I'll give you a little of our news, and then get into the substance of this blog, which has to do with relating to aboriginal peoples. This is an essay I finished this afternoon (though it may undergo further revision.) Why should you look at it? Most readers of this blog probably live in one of my previous two homelands - Australia and Canada. Both of these, and my present homeland, together with the United States, have incompletely reconciled relationships with their aboriginal populations. (It's also the case that these were the only four countries who voted against adoption of the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.) I'm a slow learner; it has taken me a long time to come to grips with this. Working on the issue of Reconcilliation , as I am currently, has created a context for this exploration.

So, first a little chat. Would you like a cup of tea?

Jack and I.
We're well. Jack has become a tramping addict, and we're now equipped to do overnight tramps.We have lovely sleeping bags, and backpacks so complicated you pretty much need a weekend workshop to learn to use one. The visit from Germany of our dear friends, Nicola and Ralph was a wonderful excuse to take time off and go tramping. Under the skilled mentorship of our friend Katerina, we went on our first overnight tramp. New Zealand has a system of government-maintained huts on major tracks, so you don't have to carry tents. Some even have gas stoves, although most don't. I had fun working out food that would be delicious after a long day's walking, and also very light to carry. After this wonderful few days, we celebrated Christmas together, and then went on a tent-camping trip on the Abel Tasman Track, reaching our starting point by water taxi.
Jack and I have since done another overnight on the Abel Tasman by ourselves, staying in a hut that was a farmhouse 100 years ago.
Working on designing the house still takes a lot of time. The earthworks are finished and it all looks rather like a moonscape.

Last month I went to Australia to help celebrate my mother's 90th birthday, which was done in three parties, all of which she greatly enjoyed. I was delighted to be present when my niece, Sky de Jersey, chaired the first meeting of a Transition Town in her part of Sydney. The group will set about creating vegetable gardens on footpath verges. In Sydney, I met up with our son Jeff, who is now in Paris, Ontario, to work on a film with friends.

OK, now for the essay.

Because I fear I might lose some of you before you get to the end of the essay, I'll say goodbye now, and how very much I appreciate the comments many of you make about the blog.

Very warmest wishes,

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Maori-Pakeha Reconciliation

There are many situations throughout the world where two or more peoples living alongside each other and interacting with each other have a history of having harmed each other. Usually there is a power difference and one side has hurt the other disproportionately. Post-colonial relations are one category of such situations. Seen in North and South America, Australia, New Zealand, Scandinavia, Africa, the Basque areas of Spain and France, the relationship may have involved superiority in military technology and manpower, with domination of indigenous people and their culture backed by violence of various kinds.
Maori are the indigenous people of New Zealand. It is thought that they came to the islands of New Zealand, also called Aotearoa (Land of the Long White Cloud) from Polynesia in about the 13th century Common Era. Beginning in the early 19th century settlers, mainly from the British Isles at first, began arriving. Later other Europeans immigrated to New Zealand, from Germany and Scandinavia, and later still, from the Pacific Islands. Initially, Maori mostly welcomed the newcomers, seeing benefits in new technologies and plant varieties. They agreed to land sales, envisaging a cooperative relationship with, at that point, small numbers of new settlers, known as ‘pakeha’.
But things were changing rapidly in ways they could not foresee. The British were interested in protecting their access to the timber, flax, seal and whale resources of New Zealand. They were aware of growing French interest in the country, and of a private company forming with the purpose of taking boatloads of settlers there. They wanted to secure their sovereignty there and, it should be said, there were those in the Colonial Office in London, who were genuinely interested in protecting the indigenous people from abuse by Europeans. (These same people were involved in the anti-slave trade movement at the time.) These several motivations led to the presentation to certain Maori leaders of a document devised by James Busby, the appointed British Resident, called the Declaration of the Independence of New Zealand. In signing it in 1835, the Maori aristocracy affirmed their sovereignty over the territory of New Zealand. A further step was the forging of what came to be called the Treaty of Waitangi (after the place at which it was discussed and signed) in 1840.
The Maori version of this treaty, which was discussed by several score tribal leaders at Waitangi, and eventually signed by hundreds of Maori leaders, gives the right to govern the land to Britain, (likely assuming this applied to the two thousand sometimes rather lawless Europeans). Maori retain the right to govern their own communities, lands, forests, fisheries and ‘treasures’. Land sales, it was agreed, should be strictly voluntary, and only to the Crown. The English version was somewhat different. In it, sovereignty is ceded wto the British Crown, in exchange for protection. The signing of this ambiguous treaty opened the country to a massive influx of Europeans and an incessant hunger for land. Maori were overwhelmed, and lost control of land transfers.
Only a few years after the signing of the treaty, Maori armed resistance to what were regarded as inadmissible land deals had begun. Maori were initially successful in these encounters. They also used nonviolent land occupations to resist land transfers. The imperial response was to call for troops from Australia, until, in the 1860s, the Governor of New Zealand had 20,000 troops at his disposal, including settler volunteers. This was at a time when total Maori population of both islands was fewer than 56,000 people. Imperial force eventually prevailed. The government imposed crippling punitive land confiscations on the Maori in the most turbulent areas, depriving them of means of living.
Resistance to one of these confiscations was the scene of the most famous of Maori nonviolent actions. Prophets Te Whiti and Tohu regularly preached nonviolence in the village of Parihaka , on the west of the North Island. In 1881 they sent out teams of women to pull up survey pegs at night and teams of men in the day to plough and fence the land soon to be taken over. Again and again these teams were arrested, and more were sent to replace them. Eventually the government sent a force of 1600 men to enter the village. They were met by hordes of singing, skipping children who offered them food. Nonetheless, the village was destroyed, the leaders arrested and imprisoned without trial , the people dispersed and the land taken over.
Throughout the 19th century, population numbers of Maori steeply declined, from about 100,000 at the time of first contact to about 45,000 at the end of the century. This disastrous decline had many causes. Two major causes were not deliberate aspects of the quite explicit settler intention to dominate and assimilate Maori and their resources. Maori had poor immune resistance to European diseases, and died in large numbers of measles, influenza, whooping cough and tuberculosis. Maori fertility was affected by syphilis and gonorrhoea.
Maori culture included intense intertribal competitiveness. Once it became possible to acquire European firearms, there was an arms race between tribes, and the so-called Musket Wars in the 1820s and 1830s caused a loss of a large proportion of the population.
Maori considered that the promises of the Treaty of Waitangi were broken many times over. The Treaty was, in fact ignored by government institutions for the following century. In 1877, Chief Justice, Sir James Prendergast, ruled that ‘the whole treaty was worthless – a simple nullity [which] pretended to be an agreement between two nations, but [in reality] was between a civilised nation and a group of savages…’ Land continued to be transferred from Maori control in huge amounts.
In addition, land transfers often included promises to Maori to reserve land for them, to build hospitals, churches and schools. Many of these promises were not kept.
In the second half of the 19th century, Maori life expectancy was affected additionally by malnutrition, as the remaining land was insufficient for their sustenance, and their initial successful adoption of European agriculture and horticulture was economically overwhelmed by larger farms.
Who and what was hurt?• Having a population decline in numbers to less than half over a century translates into all living members of a population having to deal with sickness and death and the pain of childlessness, and into watching villages depopulate. At the beginning of the 20th century, it was expected that Maori were a dying people and that the end was near.
• The remaining population suffered hunger and malnutrition, unemployment, lower state benefits or none, substandard housing.
• Maori cultural and spiritual traditions declined for many reasons – voluntary adoption of the dominant culture, assertive missionary activity, deliberate suppression of Maori language in schools, suppression by law of aspects of Maori culture, urbanisation of Maori in the 20th century, and demoralisation.
• Weakening of community functioning meant the loss of community support, a vital social and spiritual resource for Maori.
• Deprivation of their resource base of land, forests and fisheries meant most Maori suffered poverty.
• While Maori health has improved through the 20th century, there is still a life expectancy differential of 11 years compared with the Pakeha population. The loss of 11 years of life is a very significant deprivation .
• Loss of trust and goodwill for the Pakeha portion of the population after repeated infractions of the solemn promise between the peoples in the Waitangi Treaty and many other promises.
• Currently many Maori perceive that they must resign themselves to persistent racism in the Pakeha population, and know that this impedes their life chances. Some continue to feel angry over all that has happened to them and their ancestors.
• It is possible to consider that this racism, derived from 19th century colonialist encounters, also harms those who hold such attitudes, although few would feel aware of this harm, and its effects are far less painful than those suffered by the object of racism.
Who hurt whom?
Parties particularly responsible for the many injuries to Maori and their lifeways were settler companies, land developers, the government, the military, missionaries. Maori killed settlers, soldiers and a few missionaries in the course of the several wars. In the 21st century, harm continues to be done by Pakeha ignorant of the necessity of redressing historical injuries. Such people see compensatory actions to Maori as unwarranted favours to a special group. This strand of sentiment is strong enough to create anti-Maori backlash at times, and the potential to be cynically used by political opportunists.
Process of healing
The Maori population did not die. There was a resurgence in population numbers, in language and in culture. There were improvements in physical health and a surge in fertility. Maori representation in Parliament steadily increased. A Maori party formed, and is part of a ruling coalition at the time of writing. There was a renewed focus on the promises of the Treaty of Waitangi, and it came to be seen as the founding document of the nation, to be incorporated into relevant legislation. The Waitangi Tribunal came into existence for the purpose of settling and redressing wrongs in failures to observe the terms of the treaty. Numbers of Pakeha learned to speak Maori; many attended workshops on the Treaty to deepen their understanding of the injuries of history that required reconciliation. School curricula changed to incorporate learning that would help all New Zealanders understand the history of the relationship between Maori and Pakeha.
How did all this come about?
Firstly, Maori never submitted to the injustices perpetrated on them. There was no historical period in which they paused in their attempt to protest their grievances, especially the removal of almost all of their lands. Before the Land Wars of the 1860s, a powerful Maori grouping had proposed parallel parliaments, shared sovereignty and cessation of land sales. In 1894 there was a Maori attempt to introduce a Maori Rights Bill into Parliament. Maori communities set up committees to abolish the Native Land Court which facilitated land transfers away from Maori. They used their disproportionately small parliamentary representation to struggle for successive improvements in Maori rights and lives throughout the early decades of the 20th century. Many of these efforts failed at the time, but created momentum for the next attempt.
The role of parliamentary action in this long struggle highlights the importance of democratic functioning in adjusting the relationships between peoples. But only after the introduction of a proportional representation system of parliamentary elections in 1996, did Maori begin to have numbers of parliamentary representatives proportional to their population. Their influence accordingly increased.
The courts too have played a role in recovery of a just relationship. For example, a successful legal challenge led to the requirement that the government spend significant amounts of money on promotion of the Maori language.
In addition, civil society organisations, such as the Maori Women’s Welfare League , the New Zealand Maori Council and urban protest groups, played a crucial role. Highly effective Maori leadership was an important element, including remarkable women leaders. The ability to adapt the means of protest, using mass media to convey the message, was a significant factor.
In the 1970s these protests became more insistent. In 1975 there was a great Land March from the northern tip of the land to Wellington, the seat of Parliament. This politicised Maori with a unity of purpose in the struggle against colonisation. There were several notable land occupations resulting in removal of occupiers by police and army. These nonviolent actions made clear the degree of unrest in the land. Equality of rights, restoration of land and language were the major themes of protest.
In 1975, the Waitangi Tribunal was set up by an Act of Parliament, in order to examine any future challenges to Treaty provisions. Among its helpful activities, the Tribunal recommended action to promote Maori as a living language, eventually to become an official language. After a decade of Maori agitation on Treaty issues, and motivated by a desire to retain the Maori vote, in 1985 the government made the scope of the tribunal retrospective. This initiated an avalanche of claims against the Crown. As each major settlement has been made, an apology has been issued by the Crown, in the person of the Prime Minister. When decisions have been appealed in courts, an evolving understanding has developed that the Treaty was ‘essential to the foundation of New Zealand’ and is ‘part of the fabric of New Zealand society’.
Efforts to regenerate Maori education began in the 1960s, but surged in the 80s with the established of language immersion from infancy. In the same period, Maori schools and universities began. Many refer to a Maori Renaissance.
Concepts of identity are changing. Some refer to ‘tangata whenua’, the people of the land (Maori) and ‘tangata tiriti’, the people of the Treaty (Pakeha). There is the idea of a bicultural society within a multicultural society. Historian Michael King questions the concept of a bicultural society, because of the actual and desirable interpenetration of each culture with the other.
These latter changes imply that the Pakeha population of New Zealand have changed over time too, from an unquestioned attitude of superiority supporting dispossession, towards greater understanding and respect for Maori. Needless to say, this shift is not universal. Backlashes flash from time to time, racism is still endemic at a lower level.
Why the change? The 20th century was one in which the value supports of colonialism and racism were repeatedly challenged and partly demolished. The idea of the universality of human rights became firmly established. New Zealanders displayed an astonishing degree of civil protest in response to a rugby tour of an apartheid South African rugby team in 1981. This turned the attention of some to the racism in their midst. If the Treaty had not existed, there would be moral imperatives for these changes, but the treaty had standing in law, and this helped immensely.
What is yet to be done?Maori do not think full redress for past wrongs has been made. The Waitangi Tribunal is still plodding through hundreds of claims and will be for some time ahead. Maori think that the promise of self-determination over their lands, forests and treasures has not been fulfilled. There are several Maori propositions for a dual system of power-sharing, in the belief that this will constitute a just relationship. In moving towards a just and generous relationship, it is important that New Zealanders learn from an early age the history of the relationship, the progress of reconciliation so far, national values of justice, cooperation, generosity and rejoicing in diversity, in order that they might carry it forward.
In such a large-scale, long-term reconciliation process, it can be seen that all the elements of reconciliation run in parallel over time. The demand that society and the offending group (in this case one and the same) hear the grievances is not yet fulfilled. The Waitangi Tribunal has a long list of cases which will take years to clear. This demand also requires that the injuries against Maori as a people be recorded and learnt as a common history of New Zealand for generations ahead. The acknowledgement of these grievances (in this case as in many others, the heart of the process) must proceed as the grievances unfold. Apologies are formally proffered as settlements are arrived at. In 1996, Queen Elizabeth II apologised to the large tribal group who had been subjected to invasion by imperial troops and punitive land confiscations in 1860. Reparations proceed as settlements are made. Some of these are monetary, some are land returns, some involve rights to resources, such as fisheries, and some involve reversion to Maori names of places. There are more to come.
Has there been forgiveness by Maori of Pakeha harm? Hard to say. The process of acknowledgement, apology and reparation is not yet complete, for one thing. Another issue is that for some Maori, the harm of endemic racism continues. Yet many Maori-Pakeha relationships appear free of the burden of the past.
The process of reconciliation received a major setback in 2004 when, despite massive protests by Maori and others, and a contrary recommendation by the Waitangi Tribunal, the government passed a law assuming sovereignty over the foreshore and seabed of New Zealand, traditional Maori resource areas. This Act has been successfully challenged in court and awaits revision or repeal. The government is said to be moving toward a form of co-management, an interesting shift towards a Maori worldview of non-ownership. This issue, one imagines, must signal to Maori the need for continuing vigilance over transfer of land and resources. Yet, unlike the depradations of the 19th and 20th centuries, this one was halted in three years after passage, and may lead to working with a blending of values about the resources of Nature.
Further comments
The harm to indigenous people in colonising relationships backed by power to kill and other kinds of violence is very severe, and continues for centuries after the active phase of colonisation. For example, the appalling numbers of sad and hopeless Canadian Inuit boys who have committed suicide in the last decades can be linked to the history of harm in colonisation. The cumulative suffering is enormous. There are current situations in which the colonisation is active and acute, for example, Israeli colonisation of Palestine and Chinese colonisation of Tibet. When the acute harm is ended we can expect the time of healing to be very prolonged, a task to be carried out for many generations ahead, as in the case history above. This case illustrates the typical situation in which it took nearly a century and a half to begin to have grievances acknowledged formally. An intergenerational task must be carried forward by education and value transmission.
It is foreseeable that the century ahead of us will be one in which the impact of population growth, peak oil and climate change on sea level and food production is likely to cause much movement of peoples. There are no new territories to occupy, so those who move will necessarily move in on the land and resources of others. In many of these cases, the immigrant people will probably be the less powerful, vulnerable to resistance by the indigenous to use of their possibly scarce resources. Sea level rise causing Bangladeshis to move inland is one of the most worrying future projections. It is also conceivable that armed invasions could occur, particularly where land has been purchased by one state for food production in another. For example, China and the Gulf States, among others, are engaged in systematic very large land purchases in every continent for food provision to their populations.
We would do well to try to minimise future suffering by planning now to act on both the causes and effects of these foreseeable human movements. Better to learn the lessons of the suffering incurred by population movement in the past and apply them to prevention than to address centuries of suffering with reconciliation in the future.
Sources for this section were:
Consedine T., Consedine J. Healing our History: the challenge of the Treaty of Waitangi. (2nd edition) Penguin, 2005.
King, Michael. The Penguin History of New Zealand. Penguin, 2003.
King, Michael. Being Pakeha Now: Reflections and Recollections of a White Native. (2nd edition) Penguin, 2004.
Website of Network Waitangi Otautahi: www.nwo.org.nz

Well, if you got this far, you are a devoted reader, indeed! My congratulations! Of course, I welcome comments on this, as on other material.

More warm wishes,