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We Learn From Our Mistakes – Yeah Right!

Rochelle Francis



We humans are remarkably dumb creatures. Memory enables us to make decisions based on our prior experiences, and avoid courses of action that will result in negative consequences. Technology enables us to record the experiences of those that came before us, so that we may also learn from their mistakes. Yet despite all this we somehow end up repeating the same idiotic blunders again and again and again. “We learn from our mistakes” should be written on a Tui billboard.
We are currently seeing numerous examples of human beings failing to learn from experience. I feel incensed each time I hear someone assert that New Zealand has made loads of progress in race relations, moving beyond its colonial past. In my opinion too many of us are still living in the 19th century. The attitudes that permeate Aotearoa, those that shine through so clearly in our reactions to matters like ownership of the foreshore and seabed and the Treaty of Waitangi, bear an uncanny resemblance to those held by our earliest settler ancestors. Nowadays we condemn many of those “old ideas” as racist. But yet they persist. Dressed up with new labels those undertones are hidden beneath enough gloss to enable many to plead ignorance to their existence. I refuse to buy into this new brand of socially acceptable racism. I choose to learn from the mistakes of the past.
Tell me the reason why Mäori politicians in this country receive so much bad press and why our population gets so much pleasure out of it. I think it’s a simple case of putting Mäori in their place. Our white majority find it threatening to see too many Mäori succeeding in positions of power, to the benefit of the wider Mäori population, so they have to bring them down. Donna Awatere-Huata was doing too well for herself, so her opponents set out to destroy her. Such was the case also with perhaps our most celebrated Mäori politician of all time, Sir Apirana Ngata.
Read Professor Sorrenson’s “A History of Mäori Representation in Parliament”, attached as an Appendix to the Report of the Royal Commission on the Electoral System released in December 1986 (I’ll provide a photocopy to anyone who requests it). When, in the 1930s, Sir Apirana Ngata finally managed to start implementing the Mäori land development schemes that he considered so vital to the regeneration of Mäori culture, the government cut the purse strings, appointed a Commission of Inquiry, and criticised him for implementing initiatives that benefited Mäori. Then, as now, most of the public criticism of the schemes was merely, as Sorrenson says, “barely disguised racism”. Ngata was forced to tender his resignation, and the NZ Herald bluntly proclaimed that no Mäori should ever be put in charge of Mäori affairs again.
The Päkehä population is still wondering why Mäori won’t just assimilate. Few people appreciate that Mäori have the right to self-determination – a right guaranteed by the Treaty of Waitangi and supported by international law – and adjusting or erecting political structures to facilitate the exercise of this right is not “racial separatism”. Mäori have a right to do things their way, in accordance with their tikanga (custom) and belief systems. Those who succeed in using tikanga Mäori to progress Mäori self-determination goals within our systems should not be feared, nor should they be attacked. If people sought to understand what Mäori are on about, rather than attacking them out of insecurity, our political systems would function more effectively as all would realise that what benefits Mäori can and will benefit our entire country.
Let’s learn from the mistakes of our colonial past. To our Labour government, hold the foreshore legislation and just go and talk to Maori. To the opposition parties, come up with some real policies rather than seeking to rely on the unconscionable gains to be reaped from stirring up racial discontent. To our Maori leaders, kia kaha. And to you, the reader, don’t be content to inherit the prejudices of our ancestors. Endeavour to ensure that the ugly parts of our colonial history do not continue to repeat.
He Paku Akoranga Reo
In keeping with this week’s theme, I’ve come up with some great new slogans for Tui billboards – to be written in Mäori with an English translation to appear below in a smaller font in defiance of the common practice in this country.
Käore te körero a Don Brash i te whakahäwea Mäori – e kï e kï!
Don Brash’s speech wasn’t racist against Mäori – yeah, right!
He hiahia nö mätou kia whai wähi tonu te Mäori ki te mahi whakatakoto kaupapa – e kï e kï!
We want Mäori to always be involved in decision-making processes – yeah, right!
Ko te kiko o te ture Paremata e pä ana ki te takutai moana kia taea e te tangata te haere ki te takutai – e kï e kï!
The essence of the foreshore legislation is to secure access to the beaches – yeah, right!