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(Con)Descension in the Ranks

James Robinson



As you open up this week’s Salient you probably noticed some immediate differences. It’s not even called Salient. It’s Te Ao Marama. No shit. ‘They’ve’ hijacked your Salient! How dare they? You can’t read Maori. None of your friends can. Even this Maori guy who is in your accounting tutorial doesn’t even speak Maori. You are going to go home and write a letter, a pretty stern one at that. You’ll sit around your flat talking about how it’s reverse discrimination, a clear example of the systemic rot of political correctness in New Zealand society. Helen’s to blame.
Take your eye to the bottom of the page. You’re definitely not the first person to fire a note our way at the sight of Maori language. You won’t be the last. Those three quotes are taken verbatim from the letters pages over the last three years. I welcome your disgust, contempt, mild bemusement or slight contempt. And anyway, after you’ve had an angry reader tell you he’s going to slit your throat over the phone – most hate mail seems kind of secondary.
For the average reader looking at the pages of this publication, most of them don’t make sense to you at all. I understand that, and I can see where the mind goes from here. You pay your subs to VUWSA, Salient is your magazine, so why a magazine promoting Maori issues so exclusively? It’s promoting the interests of a few and it’s excluding the many. I can see that. But it doesn’t make it a less necessary or vital issue of Salient.
The average ‘whitey’ is no stranger to having their voice represented in the media they read every day. In fact it is easy to become so used to reading your own voice in the paper that it is possible to forget this fact. Eurocentric news is written by Eurocentric writers and published in abundance, every day of the week. The problem with this is the alarming regularity with which newspapers fall short when representing issues surrounding Maori culture. Too frequently does representation of important issues descend into marginalisation through a heavy reliance on stereotype and rhetoric. There’s never any chance to get an open dialogue going across racial lines, and Maori-specific issues are neglected in favour of ‘buzz’ issues such as alcoholism, crime, and welfare dependency, where again attention is placed more on hysteria and alienation then genuinely addressing the facts. A strong and confident Maori voice in the media will go a long way to closing the gaps in our society, through allowing Maori to accurately assess and report on their own problems and successes. I believe we can move forward, and faster too. And as it stands at the moment, allowing for that voice to get out there means that initiatives like Te Ao Marama are vital. New Zealand is a young culture, and Maori culture and language are a hugely unique touchstone that we have as a country. Over the years it has often been largely forgotten. Currently it stands as a fragile part of our make-up. Language initiatives, themed issues, dual place names – while laughed off as the product of New Zealand’s politically correct epidemic, these will ensure the survival of Maori culture. Think of a sapling with the wood and rubber propping it up (try not to laugh at the bad metaphor.). Maori culture hasn’t had an easy time over the last couple of centuries, it’s been battered around a bit and it needs to be propped up so it can grow back.
And it will. As more students have contact with Maori language and culture in schools, students will take it up of their own fruition. More people will become aware of the dual place names. Salient has committed to publishing two pages from Ngai Tauira every three weeks as its commitment to the promotion of a strong and confident Maori voice in New Zealand’s media landscape. And as that becomes more established and people grow accustomed to that, who knows in the years to come if a Maori issue will then be needed? Right now though, it is essential. And at a student press level Maori content has been largely ignored (by Salient as well), with the Maori reporting award being removed from the end of year student press awards, due to a lack of interest. Recent controversies have soured various relationships and put a negative tone to reporting lines but now it is time to move onward and past the controversy.
And this year’s Maori issue reflects a degree of commitment from Ngai Tauira to both reflect their culture and make the magazine accessible. Regular Salient content comes up alongside English language features submitted by the Marae, and there’s also English translations to some features and some Maori only features, as well. Still some of it will be lost on you, and I’m not sorry if that annoys you. It may only distract you through a class or two… but you could always try listening?
“A completely Maori issue. What a load of politically correct rubbish…”
“I propose that your next issue be published in invisible ink…”
“I take issue with the entire Maori SALIENT concept…”