The 6th of February is Waitangi Day in New Zealand. Also known as New Zealand day. It’s sort of our little version of the American 4th of July but with an awful lot more controversy surrounding it over the years and not so much celebration, which is a shame. I worried about doing this post as I don’t want to come across the wrong way. But I also remembered most of the readers of this blog are not Kiwis so will know little about Waitangi day and the non Maori New Zealanders relationship with the people who got to New Zealand first. The Māori.
This relationship is too broad and wide ranging to summarise in simple blog post and also I am not a Historian nor Social Worker so I’m just going to give my take on how I see it and see how that goes
The Treaty of Waitangi was the document signed by representatives of the British Crown and the Māori leaders. The Treaty signed at Waitangi in Northland, hence the name, established a British Governor of New Zealand, recognised Māori ownership of their lands and other properties, and gave the Māori the rights of British subjects. It was signed in 1840. Since the 1970’s the Māori have started to raise many objections to the content and the rights and wrongs of the treaty and have been trying to wrest control of what they see as their land and so on back from the Crown. They have largely been successful in getting all the demands they have made acceded to. Most Kiwis, non Māori and Māori, believe that enough has been done now. We should all just get along as Kiwis together and celebrate our uniqueness. It seems some people are never satisfied though. There continue to be grievances but I struggle to see the foundation for them anymore.
I was going to give a view on how that all turned out but I’ve changed my mind. I’m just going to talk about how I feel about the Māori people and my experience of Māoridom in and around my life.
I believe that the New Zealand Māori are the most respected even loved, engaged, involved, integrated and I hesitate to use the word, but yes, indulged ethnic Minority in the world, which is what they are. There are about 530,000 people of Māori Ancestry in New Zealand which has a population of over 4 million. Not one of them is what one might term a ‘full Māori’. The last ‘full Māori’ died in the 1960’s.
Many non Māori New Zealanders will wear Māori jewellery, greet each other in Māori and use Māori terms to refer to their friends and family. The Māori may be a minority but the Kiwis of all hues completely identify themselves with Māori culture. You will be familiar with the All Black Haka, it is stuff of legend.
Kiwis are tremendously proud of the feats of the 28th Māori Battalion in the 2nd World War and the New Zealand Army infantry or fighting units are still largely made up of Māori men. The Last Victoria Cross awarded to a New Zealand soldier was to a Māori chap called Corporal Willie Apiata VC, in Afghanistan. The first Victoria Cross given to a Māori combatant was in the First World War, to a Pilot of Māori descent.
When I was little we lived on a Department of Māori Affairs owned sheep station in a very remote part of the country and I went to a Māori School. I spent my first two years at school with only Māori people and my own family for company. It used to intrigue me that the Māori kids after swimming seldom bothered with a towel, nor underwear. At my next school the Māori family that lived nearest us used to send their kids to school without any lunch. They had to scavenge what they could out of other kids lunch boxes. Which is pretty crap. When we were that age, we didn’t know about the Treaty of Waitangi really. Everyone had heard of it but we just got on with our Māori mates. We used to play and work together. All we thought about the Māori as a race different to us was that they were browner than us and really good at singing and playing guitar.
On to High School and you became more aware as you got educated that too many Māori were not embracing the education system. I believe this is fundamentally due to social issues in Māori households rather than any sort of lack of opportunity for Māori people. The Māori have exactly the same opportunities as non-Māori in New Zealand. I will argue vigorously with anyone about there being any institutional racism in New Zealand. However there is much good natured leg pulling. Which some might see as racist? I beg to differ, its cultural differences being joked about. Our Māori school friends would rib us for being culturally ignorant Pakeha softies and we would tease them by saying they should be thankful the Dutch didn’t colonise New Zealand first. Stuff like that. No-one was taking any offence as none was intended except to the South African regime of the time. More on that later.
But there are real Social problems in many Māori Communities. There is a big gang problem in New Zealand that people outside NZ are largely unaware of. These are not kids with a bad attitude and a hat on backwards. These are very big angry men causing much trouble to each other. Every town in New Zealand has several of them setting a very bad example to young Māori feeling disaffected by the stuff going on at home and School. You would be surprised to learn how many talented young Māori rugby players schools in New Zealand have that turn away from the sport when they leave school and discipline and discover the delights of beer. It is very sad, actually a tragedy.
The majority of Māori kids do get on with School though and go on to gainful employment afterwards. They can and do achieve anything they wish to as New Zealanders. Like I said, we have much of what might be considered casual racism in New Zealand as in any country with people of different colour. Sadly it’s a way of life across the world. But there is no institutional racism. As an Example, The current Governor General, The Queens representative in New Zealand is General Sir Jerry Matapere. Formally commander of New Zealand land forces. One of the most high profile politicians in NZ apart from the Prime Minister is leader of the New Zealand First Party, Winston Peters, a Māori. You will encounter Māori people in all walks of life and in all occupations. You cannot say the same of Australian Aboriginals, or Native Americans or Canadians, or any other country I am aware of. That is not meant to be patronising it’s just stating a fact. There is nothing but social issues within their own communities stopping Māori kids achieving anything they want to do in life. There is certainly nothing from the Treaty of Waitangi standing in their way.
More cheerfully, as well as being historically known as a ‘warrior people’ the Māori have a tremendous sense of humour. No-one tells a Māori joke as well as a Māori but now we must consider them racist jokes as we have lost our own senses of humour somewhere along the way. The jokes were never intended as racist but for the purposes of fun poking, we are no longer allowed to poke fun, even in fun, which is a shame.
I am going to give you a couple of examples of uniquely Māori humour though to give you an idea. Excuse the mild expletive. When I was in the army, with many Māori comrades in arms of course. We spent much time practising shooting as you can imagine. We almost always had Māori training NCO’s. One day a Māori bloke from the East Coast was not demonstrating sufficient skill at his target practise. The Māori instructor ripped his rifle from his hands, (once it had been made safe of course) and shouted the following at him “You f**ken dumb Māori, you can’t shoot for shit. Shall I get you some East Coast Kumara and you can throw that instead, you might hit something, now f**k off back to camp”. I hadn’t laughed so much in years.
Prior to that in 1981. The Mighty Springboks had come to New Zealand during the Apartheid era. New Zealand was in turmoil over it. There were riots in the street. Many Kiwis felt we should not be playing sport against a team from a regime such as ran South Africa at the time. Many other Kiwis wanted to see the All Blacks play a rare series against their greatest rivals. During the Apartheid era, when the All Blacks toured South Africa, they were not allowed to turn up with any Māori team members which were invariably among the teams key players. Imagine that! How horrendous is that? Not allowed to go and play for your country at your national sport against your greatest foe at their place because you were brown. This is not all that long ago.
So, there was trouble on the streets of New Zealand when the South African Springboks under the Apartheid Regime arrived. I went to see them play the NZ Māori team at Mclean Park in Napier. The Māori were very keen to have a go at the Springboks as you can imagine. The New Zealand Māori Rugby team is almost as good as the All Blacks. So we all came from miles around to watch the Māori play the Springboks. The Springboks had in their side the very first coloured chap to play rugby for South Africa. His name was Errol Tobias and he played on the wing. The Māori really took the match to the Springboks and had them on the back foot for much of the game. It was a match of incredible intensity. During a lull in the play though a lone voice echoed across the park. “Hey Errol, I bet you wish you were a Māori today ay boy?” The whole park fell about themselves. Brilliant comic timing. As a foot note. The Māori won the game 12-9 but the scoreboard showed the score as 12-12. A last minute drop goal was awarded despite it not going over the bar. I know. I saw it, I was there! After the match though the Māori people walked out with chests puffed out like barrels. Great pride on their faces as their boys had beaten the mighty Boks despite what the scoreboard said. “Bloody stupid shit ref robbed us though, he needs his arse kicked” as one chap put it so eloquently.
Happy Waitangi day to all of New Zealand.
Want to see the New Zealand Māori rugby team in action? This little clip from the same stadium. McLean Park in Napier will give you a pretty good idea of what a proper Haka looks like.