Image: Grave of William Hobson - where his pledge belongs / Ulrich Lange / Wikimedia Commons
First published on Saturday the 1st of October, 2016, this piece comes in at number 4 in the top 30 most read Villainesse stories of 2016.
If you’ve managed to avoid the news that Don Brash and a group of – honestly, I don’t know what to call them – have launched a campaign called Hobson’s Pledge, I salute you and humbly beg that you please take me with you back to your blissfully rosy bubble.
If, like the rest of us, you have been forced to sully your mind with the thought of yet another anti-Māori tirade, my sincere commiserations.
Just when we thought Don Brash and his cronies had skulked off into obscurity, assured that their vile views had no relevance to modern New Zealand after their last disastrous campaign, the former National and Act Party leader thrust himself into the spotlight yet again in a piece of political theatre I’ve seen best described as ‘old man shouts at long white cloud’ (thank you, David Slack).
I have a confession to make. I have met Don Brash on a handful of occasions. I’ve sat next to him on television panels and even had the now supremely mind-bending experience of partaking in a relatively pleasant conversation with him, Moana Maniapoto, and The Hui producer Annabelle Lee at a media lunch last year.
I was 14 when Brash gave his infamous Orewa speech, and it reverberated throughout my high school years. I developed a strong distaste for the then-politician, spoke out damningly against him during his time as the leader of the Act Party, and was utterly shocked when I later met him to find myself actually liking him.
That’s the strange thing about him; he can be kind and friendly. It confused me to no end. I guess I was expecting an evil fairy tale villain. Every time we’d see each other I’d try to reconcile myself to the fact that nice Don had made that repugnant speech. And I’d fail.
But regardless of how nice he can be, I now find myself viscerally furious with him. As a Māori woman with white skin – and white privilege – I’ve avoided most overt racism, but my God his words hurt. My whānau (like many whānau) has moments of great darkness and hardship in its history, and every time he talks about so-called Māori privilege I’m staggered by the complete mismatch between what he says and what my whānau has experienced.
Over the last few days, I’ve found myself wondering whether Brash and his colleagues have ever made a meaningful attempt to really understand what it is like to be Māori. Whether they’ve spoken to Māori, tried to see things from a Māori perspective or to learn about Māori culture, history and lived experiences. When I waded through the increasingly supercilious claims on the Hobson’s Pledge website I was struck by the complete one-sidedness of the discussion. “We are not in any sense anti-Māori,” they say on their site, claiming that some of their members are tangata whenua (as if internalised racism weren’t possible) and then mocking a veritable slew of Māori tikanga.
I would need to write a thesis to cover everything that is wrong with Hobson’s Pledge as it is described and discussed on the website, but here’s an abridged version:
- It completely ignores the UNDRIP, the General Assembly Declaration that New Zealand made a commitment to in 2010.
- It makes no mention of other indigenous cultures and efforts being made globally to acknowledge indigeneity and right colonial wrongs.
- It offers no meaningful operational definition of what so-called “race-based privilege” actually is, or what its effects are.
- It neglects to consider the fact that the rights and protections guaranteed to Māori under the Treaty of Waitangi were repeatedly denied and usurped by successive governments over generations. An uncontestable circumstance that goes a considerable way towards explaining why a) Māori are over-represented in negative social statistics and b) why it is especially important now to uphold Māori rights.
- It fails to appropriately recognise the differences between the two versions of the Treaty of Waitangi, most pertinently the difference of meaning between Kawanatanga and Sovereignty.
- It completely ignores the fact that the Treaty guaranteed Māori “tino rangatiratanga” (complete chieftainship) over their lands, villages, property and treasures.
- There is no discussion at all about the notion that few Māori could ever have grasped the true meaning of the Treaty, and what it would mean for Māori culture. There’s also no mention of the Māori rangatira who perhaps gleaned what the future held in store and refused to sign the document.
- It refutes that the Treaty of Waitangi created a partnership between the Māori and the Crown. What exactly did the Treaty do if not create a situation in which two partners in a deal assigned certain rights to each other? For this argument to have any possible leg to stand on, Hobson’s Pledge would have to rely on a Eurocentric legal view of partnership, a principle that was not applicable to Māori at the time the Treaty was signed.
- It downplays the importance of the work that went into establishing the Treaty Principles, and fails to appropriately acknowledge the numerous Māori and Pākehā experts that have worked together over decades of collaboration to provide an acceptable framework for a positive relationship between Māori and Pākehā.
- It acknowledges that the Treaty Principles were adopted through democratic processes (they were first approved by Cabinet, then adapted by bodies such as the Privy Council and the Courts of New Zealand) but seemingly wants that democratic process voided.
- It declares that there is no longer any need for the Waitangi Tribunal, when a number of outstanding claims have yet to be heard.
- It ignores the fact that the Crown has acknowledged that Māori have interests in the water for over a decade. These interests are supported by the common law principle of Native Title.
- It appears to be entirely oblivious to the idea that consultation and collaboration could be positive and beneficial to all New Zealanders, especially in the light of the role of Māori as kaitiaki.
- It’s plain rude about Māori tikanga and belief systems, yet it seems to holds up a society in which public bible reading was common.
- It assumes, without presenting a shred of credible evidence, that most New Zealanders don’t know the te reo verse of the National Anthem.
- It assumes, without presenting a shred of credible evidence, that most New Zealanders would rather not partake in powhiri and other Māori customs.
- It slams the concept of cultural safety, insinuating that the idea that any effort should be made so that Māori patients feel comfortable in the health system is somehow offensive or ridiculous.
- It mind-blowingly presents learning about Māori culture under the heading of “indoctrination”.
- It asserts that calling someone “racist” is simply “a bid to shut down debate and public scrutiny”. It does not seem to be able to conceive of a situation in which someone could be called “racist” because they were in fact perpetrating racism.
- It fails to present any research into existing iwi participation agreements that could prove that such agreements have been detrimental.
- It seeks to discredit the legitimacy of grievances brought to the Waitangi Tribunal.
- It says of grievance claimants: “These groups benefit from the system without being required to contribute,” without considering the fact that their contributions may have taken place years before when their land, assets and treasures were unlawfully and/or exploitatively stolen.
- It takes issue with geographical place name changes without acknowledging that many places in New Zealand had a te reo Māori name before an English name, and most changes would involve reverting to original names.
- It presents no sources in its discussion of the so-called Littlewood Treaty, and as such the information is unverified and irrelevant.
And so on, and so forth.
I could go on, but you get the idea. Frankly, I can’t believe that in 2016 I have to waste hours of my life rebutting the basic anti-Māori arguments that my teachers explained and debunked in Year 10 Social Studies.
Perhaps Hobson's Pledge's most fatal flaw, however, is its complete rejection of the very idea that a multicultural future within a bicultural framework could be positive and beneficial to all New Zealanders.
The people behind the Hobson’s Pledge campaign seem blissfully unaware that the very future they are arguing about does not belong to them, but to us, the multicultural younger generations.
It is my humbly and honestly held opinion that it is time for them to respectfully butt out.
For more on Māori privilege, here’s something I prepared earlier (i.e. when Brash et al. last honoured us with their proclamations).