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A RICH LEGACY OF DIFFERENCE.
By Helen Watson White in All Sorts
rethinking bi- and multi-culturalism in New Zealand.A RICH LEGACY OF DIFFERENCE
Rod's Waitangi Day service last Sunday, Feb 6,
was an extended reflection on Colin's hymn 'We are many, we are one,' from Faith Forever Singing (67). This hymn about unity in diversity was written in response to division in the church over same- sex relationships, but its relevance doesn't stop there. It has made me want
to go further into the issues underlying Waitangi Day.
'We are many':
In recent decades there has been much debate over the difference between biculturalism and multiculturalism. Some find these ideas contradictory.
First, the numbers. Current statistics (2018 census data) show that 16.5% of New Zealanders identify as Maori (775,840 people); that 15.1% (707,600) – almost as many – call themselves Asian; and that Pacific people, numbering 381,640, make up 8.1% of the population. Auckland is a special case, with over a quarter (28%) identifying with an Asian ethnicity, and over 15% (twice the national proportion) of Pasifika, making it the country's (and the world's) largest Polynesian city. Auckland is also the city with the largest Asian population in Aotearoa. 'Asian' of course covers a vast continental area and a range of different identities, from Turkish, Persian and other cultures in Central Asia, to Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese and Japanese, and the sub-groups within them. These figures mean the term multiculturalism has become associated with cosmopolitan Auckland, even perhaps overtaking the biculturalism idea in that context, since (surprisingly) only 11.5% of Aucklanders in the 2018 census are identified as Maori.
But biculturalism and multiculturalism are not about numbers. The words 'minority' and 'majority' (used for culture) have nothing to do with the number of seats in Parliament, where in an elected democracy the majority vote wins out or, under MMP, coalitions are made based on majorities for elected seats and elected parties. In the MMP context, anyway, numbers have now lost their force, in that small parties can achieve a great deal – if they get in. Minorities are no longer subsumed in the election process; our changing democracy does acknowledge that we live in a multicultural society, where many different groupings may co-exist and have influence on the whole. While this is clearly an advance for us, many other nations have not even had the kind of democracy we had under FPP, which was majority rule. In South Africa under Apartheid, those in the majority, the voteless black / coloured population, were ruled by the European (Afrikaaner / English) minority who saw themselves as colonial masters, entitled to rule by everything in their history that had brought them to that position.
Recognizing the injustice of that minority rule should help us understand the need for a more even-handed biculturalism in New Zealand, but actually in referring to quantity (numbers) it takes the focus away from the quality of the relationship. Because Maori are now a minority in their own country, the numbers give a distorted picture; the argument for biculturalism has quite a different basis, in the pursuit (or continuation) of a partnership of equals.
Looking back at the numbers in history, there seems a much greater sense of equality about dealings between Maori and European while the immigrants were fewer in number than their hosts, which was still the case in 1840 when the Treaty was signed. It is widely recorded how Maori gave support and sustenance to the European settlers, as Atholl Anderson relates. The title of his 1998 book The Welcome of Strangers comes from a comment by the West Coast explorer Thomas Brunner: 'At Parika we received the welcome of strangers in a bountiful supply of fern-root, preserved wekas, and fish.' Local Maori were able to make generous gifts to manuhiri (visitors) out of their usual resources, the fruit of their extensive lands and waterways. 150 years before Brunner, Anderson writes, 'the migrant ancestors of his Ngai Tahu hosts had received a welcome offered in similar largesse by the older residents of the South Island'. There was also a thriving trade between southern Maori providers and early European settlements, both here and on the East coast of Australia.
So much for reciprocity, an important principle in Maori tradition and (in our perception as well as theirs) an expression of equality – values only evident when Maori were able to engage in such two-way relations on their own terms. When you get about halfway through Michael King's Penguin History of New Zealand, you realize when a tipping point occurred, in the mid-nineteenth century. The numbers went the other way, immigrants arriving first in a flood, then in a deluge, their insecure settlements requiring the protection of an army in what became, in the Waikato and Taranaki, a full-scale invasion.
The treaty had been signed between two equal parties, the Crown, and the people who lived here, who outnumbered Europeans at that time. Although the tribal leaders who signed the treaty were many, they nevertheless spoke as one, because they shared one language, belonged to one land and one ocean which had the capacity to support a great many lives. They would never have dreamt how both land could be parcelled up and stolen or sold on, taking with it their power, their livelihoods, the trust they had built up with others both like and unlike themselves, the land-based traditions they had developed to sustain their communities. As Whakahuihui Vercoe, (Anglican) Bishop of Aotearoa, said in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II in 1990, 'Since the signing of the treaty 150 years ago I want to remind our partners that you have marginalized us. You have not honoured the treaty. We have not honoured each other in the promises we made each other on this sacred ground.'
It is hardly necessary to repeat that tangata whenua have a unique place as the people of THIS land. Te reo, originating only in THIS land, is one of our official languages. In my view we need the four Maori seats, Maori members of parties, Maori representation in all national discussions, the new Maori health authority – everything possible to restore to Maori their resources, their mana and rangatiratanga (integrity and sovereignty). These things were taken from them, and I don't want to live with such an injustice, such an outrageous inequality. The treaty gave us two strong legs to stand on. I would ask: what is the alternative to biculturalism? Living on one leg only?
'We are one':
This notion has often come from the political Right, in dismissive statements like 'We are all immigrants/all New Zealanders', as if everyone was here on the same basis. The Fascists had an even more reductive view: there was only one way for people to be, and to be included in the ideal state: they had to be white (Aryan), heterosexual, physically beautiful, and convinced of the superiority of their own race and kind. On the other hand, the assertion 'We are one', in another setting, can carry a huge positive charge, when it is launched – one could almost say exploded – in Colin's hymn. Importantly, Colin's line includes another principle inside that sometimes simplistic slogan. 'We are many, we are one', far from erasing all difference, includes every individual in the many, and presents a society that can be diverse and unified at the same time.
Biculturalism covers far more than two ethnic groups, for amongst both Maori and Pakeha, through intermarriage (disallowed in both Apartheid South Africa and Nazi Germany), there are individuals descended from very different cultural streams going back generations on both sides. In Growing up Maori, a compendium of personal essays by Maori edited by Witi Ihimaera (Tandem Press, 1998), I was astonished at the complexity of the stories and whakapapa (genealogy) told by people like Bishop Vercoe (above) and others: novelist Patricia Grace, for instance, and Irihapeti Ramsden, who was one of the collective that first published The Bone People. It's a rich legacy of difference – no two stories are the same – but many also reveal the pain and conflict caused historically by our governments' assimilation policies: an enforced 'we are one' that obliterated Maori identity.
Multiculturalism has increasingly brought people together in a celebration of that difference, expressing a diversity that is now undeniable in our country because of the enormous numbers of immigrants who have made their home here. While Maori have been in some ways reluctant to embrace being one among many, if there is a strong underlying sense of bicultural partnership and of mana, in a pan-Polynesian and multicultural context, I feel Maori uniqueness may be fully acknowledged and celebrated, as it should be.
I reckon we can be both bi and multi-cultural, and be the richer for it. If one person/partner is degraded, our humanity is somehow lessened, but when anyone wins recognition – as Zoi would say – we all win. Team of five million, you can do it.
– Helen Watson White