by Sourced

Waitangi reflections

The following moving sermon was given by Head of Social Sciences, Mrs Christina Nicolaas.

We are all one people.

There is no need to distinguish anymore.

We are all kiwi, no need for iwi.

We should move forward.

It is time to move on.

Let’s put a deadline on all claims so we can get this over with.

Waitangi day is just a “day off”.

Let’s abolish Maori scholarships, that’s race-based privilege.

I would be more inclined to feel sorry for Maori if they weren’t the ones dealing drugs, and filling our prisons in New Zealand.

Most of the Maori people claiming their land back, don’t even understand the treaty themselves.

But Maori traded muskets for their land, they can’t now just demand the land back. If that is the case - we want the muskets back.

Why should we be the ones paying for what generations before us did?

These statements are all statements I have heard in my classroom over the years when teaching Te Tiriti o Waitangi, or the Treaty of Waitangi. These statements I have read in the media; in letters to the editor even. And if I am being honest, many of these statements have been spoken in the past by a more ignorant, racist, and naive version of myself.

Morena e te Whanau. Today I stand here before you feeling somewhat daunted at my task. I stand here before you as a Pakeha teacher charged with the challenge of commemorating Waitangi Day appropriately. Despite the fact that for many years, I never did so myself. Charged with the challenge of trying to impart the significance of this day to you. Despite the fact that for a long time I never understood it myself. I am to help impart the significance of the past, of the history and of the events ascribed to this day. Except, as we should all at least know, it is not history. It is so very much the present. Our present. Our confronting and challenging present.

I stand here unsure of how honest I should be with you. You see, like many of you have probably said about Waitangi Day - as a child, as a teenager and even as a young adult, I thought of it as little more than a day off. I would contend, it’s not my history. And for a long time I felt that Waitangi Day was a day to make the white person feel guilty. It wasn’t my fault, it wasn’t my ancestors that signed the treaty, or fought the wars. As I “progressed” in maturity, I could acknowledge that while it was an important day for “them” and therefore only right an opportunity was given for Maori to have this time to remember, for me, god willing, it would be a day of low wind and flat water and a good water ski!

For my family, Waitangi Day was a family day. In fact, this day fell one day after the anniversary of my twin sister’s passing, and therefore provided a great opportunity for my family to go water-skiing and remember her. Ironically, most likely on one of the very lakes stolen from Maori by Pakeha.

As a history teacher, I shied away from the topic. Any topic in fact, that had anything to do with the colonization of New Zealand, the treaty, the conflict, the dishonesty, the treachery, the trickery, the murder, the massacre, the rape, the seizure of Maori land, the deliberate and systematic actions to ensure Maori would depend on Pakeha. That’s right: The deliberate and systematic actions to ensure Maori would depend on Pakeha. To ensure that Maori prosperity was undermined.

But, on the other hand - I had no trouble teaching students about the indigenous Australians plight, and the horrific way in which Australian aborigines had been taken from their parents and had the colour breed out of them. I taught how Australia Day should not be one of celebration, but one that needed to centre on the idea of saying sorry and making amends. Two notions that I, as a Christian, was well familiar with. I knew it was right to say sorry and make amends. Yet here I was struggling with the way New Zealand was making amends in Aotearoa. I was struggling with the huge amount of compensation paid to Maori. The special scholarships for Maori, the giving them back Mount Tarawera and other iconic landmarks, the special seats in parliament. The list goes on! I thought Don Brash was being pretty reasonable with his argument that we should try to get all the claims in and sorted, and move on. That we were one nation. That it was time to talk kiwi, not iwi.

So what changed all this? Why is it, that now the Treaty is the most important topic I teach at junior level, and I will always have some of the more confronting colonial New Zealand content as part of my classroom curriculum? Why my change of attitude to Waitangi Day? The answer is, I got educated. Properly. Slowly. But properly. And it made me realise just how many New Zealanders needed this same education.

And I think one of the biggest changes for me, was when at a conference I was at, I was asked to do, what I am about to do with you all right now….

I want you to imagine, your favourite place. Your most special place. Bring this place to mind. The place with the fondest memories attached to it. Perhaps it is a beach house that has been in the family for generations, a grandparent’s house, a family farm. Bring this place to mind. Perhaps it is a place in which people you loved have died, been buried, or had their ashes scattered. It is a place you or your family own. Or at the very least you and your family share with others. Or have access to. Bring this place to mind. Every time you go to this place, it is like a homecoming.

Now it’s gone. Your access denied. The buildings or structures there destroyed. New roads or buildings built right through the middle. Not only do you not have access to it anymore, or own it anymore, but someone else does! Not only have you lost this place, but your children and your children’s children have also been denied the chance to make memories or connections with this place. With little care for its connection to you, the new owners, the thieves who stole it from you, they now use it to make money from it, for themselves.

How do you feel? Angry? Sad? Aggrieved? That an injustice has been done? Are you likely to feel goodwill toward the thief? Or that a sorry will do? An apology is enough? That no compensation is needed? And that the money will make up for what is lost? In the 19th century this happened to Maori across Aotearoa. Land robbed from them. Land that not only was of special connection to them, their whanau, hapu and iwi, but also their livelihood. This was the way in which I began to understand how deep the hurt and scarring ran for Maori in Aotearoa New Zealand. I began to understand the anger and the sadness. I began to understand even those who had fallen into a deep sense of hopelessness. And I began to understand that this sort of pain would be inter-generational, whether consciously or subconsciously, this sort of pain would last across generations for well over 170 years. And yet despite this obvious wrong doing, for a long time the Crown ascertained that Maori did not have their power and land stolen from them, but that Maori GAVE it to them in the treaty. I ask you, the St Paul’s community, how many of you, would wake up and decide to give someone all your land and treasures away, willingly, with full knowledge it would never come back and would never be treated with the respect you would have treated them with? How likely is this? Why then have so many New Zealanders chosen to accept the arguments that the Crown had made right up until the later decades of the 20th century, that this is what Maori did? That the English version of the Treaty is the one to be followed?

And after all of this….after all of this, St Paul’s - Would sorry really be enough?

Yes, Maori are over represented in unemployment, in the social welfare system, in domestic violence, in prisons, in drug use and addiction, in poverty and crime. Yes, they are. And these facts also shaped or justified what I can now see were my racist opinions and attitudes. But through education, I came to realise that this too was a result of the systematic oppression of Maori by Pakeha. There was the denial to the full education that would allow them to enter professions rather than jobs, the denial of access to their land, the destruction of the thriving businesses and advanced exports they had established with places such as New South Wales, their exclusion from the voting system. The evidence of this oppression is immense. This disenfranchisement and marginalisation was not an accident. It was deliberate. And it has resulted in the statistics and situation that we have in our country today.

And so, St Pauls, when we take some time on Waitangi Day to remember, let us take some time to remember the truths. The facts. As confronting, and controversial as they are. We need to face them. We need to know them. We need to correct those who continue to propagate the falsities and untruths, the stereotypes and the ignorance on this issue. We need to be part of the change. That means we need to be educated on the facts. And, making amends might begin with sorry, but it ends with action.

Kia Ora.