Ruataniwha — a double-take on the Treaty

Colin James address to Ngai Tahu planning summit dinner, 13 May 2005

A journalist has no whakapapa. A journalist is outside all groups, has neither past nor future, has no connectedness. A journalist looks in on events and people and transmits the picture the journalist sees to others so that they may look in on events and people.

Of course, the individual behind the journalist’s mask does have connections, to family and communities, to a time and a place. But once the journalist’s mask is on, the connections fall away. A journalist has no whakapapa.

The journalist’s privilege is to learn. Almost anyone will talk to a journalist, teach a journalist. A journalist’s working life is one of constant learning, provided cynicism can be kept at bay.

Being on the outside, the journalist can make connections — between events, between people and between peoples, across time. A journalist charts contemporary history through the actions, the mores, the arts, the excitements, the angers and predilections of those he or she is privileged to watch.

No journalist could have been more privileged than I have been. Two revolutions have exploded in front of my eyes, each intertwined with the other. I am watching a new society being alchemised in the crucible of biculturalism. I hope I am granted a little more time to watch this alchemy.

I say “alchemy” because to large numbers of my and your compatriots (if such a word can be used in these sceptical, anti-nationalist times) what is going on seems outside the established boundaries of social behaviour, outside the rules by which a society develops, unscientific — and so bound, surely, to fail and to disappoint those conducting the experiment. Some think what is going on is dangerous, that it might give birth to a monster.

Let me go back to the early 1970s.

In those days two parallels were commonly drawn with the state of Maori (to the extent any non-Maori thought about the topic). One was with the American blacks: a dislocated underclass. The other, favoured by Duncan MacIntyre, a National cabinet minister and eventual Deputy Prime Minister, was with the clearances of the Scottish highlands by rapacious landlords driven by English ideas: MacIntyre, a Scot by descent, claimed fellow-feeling with Maori dispossessed under colonialism. Those two parallels — the blacks and the clearances — influenced the way I thought about Maori, set within the standard New Zealand histories of the time.

Then I ran into Pat Hohepa and Ranginui Walker. They were young radicals then, at Auckland University, though a decade later some were to scorn them as limousine liberals. Pat and Rangi introduced me to the Treaty of Waitangi. I thereby got a head start on a topic most people outside certain Maori circles did not bump into until the mid-1980s or even later. Pat and Rangi were cooking up the original Treaty of Waitangi Act, advising Matiu Rata — whom I fondly remember for two other facts of no account: his three-toned upper torso when he took his singlet off on a hot day on the marae (thereby in a sense depicting the progressive imprint of colonialism); and his habit of pouring whiskys in five-ounce beer glasses, which warmed a young journalist’s cockles.

I went on my OE before the Treaty of Waitangi Act was passed. I missed Whina Cooper’s hikoi of 1975. But the four years I spent in London were immensely valuable: I travelled widely around Britain and Europe; I drank in my culture; I became strong in my culture. I was home in London. I nearly stayed there. In fact, I have a British, now European, passport besides my New Zealand one.

The result was that when I came back and ran into the likes of Eva Rickard, whom I once wrote was perhaps the most powerful woman I had met, and learnt about the land claims movement, I did so from a strongly rooted position. I was culturally secure — doubly so, because I also had a strong attachment to this land — my land — and its people and their habits –my people and habits. I could approach Maori as an equal and not, as so many of my liberal contemporaries did, as an inferior, and a guilty inferior at that.

And then came the 1980s revolution.

It is now historiographically respectable to describe that revolution as a generational shift, the flexing of muscles of a generation that grew up amidst material security and was much better educated than any previous generation — and much more self-centred and determined on personal “freedom”. When I first essayed that guess in 1986, it was scorned as the insubstantial meandering of a mere journalist of no account — which it was. But something big came to a head in the 1980s, something much bigger than mere “reform”. New Zealand was not like other countries that were “reforming” at the time.

The difference was what I have called the “twin indigenisations”.

One indigenisation was this country’s independence revolution. The 1980s were the decade in which this country weaned itself from the mother country, the decade when it decolonised. My parents called Britain “home” and British immigrants “homeys”. My generation did not.

By independence, I don’t mean the anti-nuclear policy and the exit from the Anzus treaty. I mean an unselfconsciously New Zealand cultural expression, both in the high and popular arts. There was an explosion of writing, films, theatre, art and music from the late 1970s onwards. It no longer strove to be different, separate from Britain. It just was. And when the generation that was producing this new expression attained power in business corporations and in politics, it broke the rules and turned everything upside down, as revolutionaries usually do. Our “reforms” were so deep and disruptive by comparison with what we used to call “our sorts of countries” because they were a part of our independence revolution.

The upshot of that revolution is that the ex-British have indigenised. They are not British. They are New Zealanders.

The process has some way to go yet. Most important, there is a generation to come — perhaps the under-30s — which will reclaim the European/British roots of the newly indigenised culture. Te Papa treats non-Maori as if they had no history before the ships began arriving — though it has been showing part of the Queen’s art collection which stretches back to the sixteenth century, so perhaps that is changing. Until the ex-British feel confident enough to claim and proclaim those deeper, older roots, they will not be truly independent and there will not be a truly indigenous ex-British culture here.

This is a fraught and difficult process, rather like growing through the teenage years. Australia’s constant revisiting of “identity” indicates that. New Zealanders are groping for “identity”. You can see that in the hordes of young people who turn out on Anzac parades and go to Gallipoli for Anzac Day. It is an ingredient in the push for a new flag.

But it has been made doubly fraught by the second indigenisation — or, rather, reindigenisation. That is the reclamation and reassertion by Maori of the culture and the place in the land and the power structure.

This has been rapid and dynamic. The transformation in only 25 years is astonishing. And the change in policy to accommodate, facilitate and adjust to that transformation has been even more astonishing — a second revolution. In 1985 it was near-unimaginable there would be such recognition of Maori claims, such recovery of the language and its infusion into general parlance, so many Maori health and educational services, such growing official, and, more lately, unofficial, respect for taonga and tikanga and sacred places and so many requirements in laws to consult iwi and hapu before decisions are taken. Taniwha are part of this country’s official life. The Treaty is part of the law of the land, even if not yet part of the constitution. All that was near-unimaginable in 1985.

Of course, there are many who think that there is more to be achieved, more recognition to be demanded and won and more power to be shared until there is true equality. That is the genesis of the Maori party. But that overlooks how much has changed in the past 20 years.

It overlooks, too, the difficulty the ex-British have adjusting to this new reality. For one thing, post-christians have great difficulty understanding whakapapa and the spiritual interconnectedness of all people and nature and times past and present that is at the centre of an animist belief system. The ACT party’s scoffing about hobgoblins encapsulates that perplexity. And suburban kiwi blokes and blokesses brought up on rugby, racing and beer have been left behind by the policy revolution wrought by the political elites in Wellington — both National and Labour. So when Don Brash did his “one law for all” speech in January 2004 — his “Orewa I” — it struck a chord with those who were mystified, miffed or mad about the changes in “their” society. Them horis were getting too uppity and the politically correct politicos in the Beehive had lost the plot. You get the drift.

Actually, the big shift in opinion had taken place six months before Orewa I, straight after the Appeal Court decision on the foreshore and seabed. The UMR measure of whether the country is on the right track or the wrong track plunged 35 points from hugely positive to just-and-no-more positive. That is why the government had no choice but to secure ownership of the foreshore and seabed. Any government that had not done that would have been out of office.

That may sound like separation, the races growing apart. Some politicians have even taken to using the word “apartheid”.

But something deeper, almost insidious has been going on which is exactly the opposite of separation. Maori culture is starting to influence mainstream culture — not just in a token way, as in the past — some place names, a word or two, a haka at a rugby match — but genuinely. For me the difference became apparent when as early as 2001 the National party began routinely to sing the Maori version of the national anthem before the English version, only two years after the outcry at the Maori version being sung at the Rugby World Cup.

Now it is commonplace to start a speech with a few Maori words. You will notice that I didn’t. Powhiris have become epidemic. I personally find them tedious but, then, I don’t like ceremony. Kapa haka is de rigueur at big hui. I personally find kapa haka boring, probably because I do not know its finer points (though I was impressed by the performance at the Savour New Zealand party last Friday night). Words are turning up in everyday language that we all know now but foreigners don’t. Maori graphic artists are producing exciting and inventive work and Maori artists’ work was chosen on merit to be this country’s contribution to two major international exhibits. Maori and Pacific theatre seems to me to have found its expression. And Maori and Pacific popular music is influential way beyond the numbers. You might say hip-hop is brown. And, of course, sport has gone very brown.

You may have noticed the word “Pacific” in the last couple of sentences. That is deliberate. I think — and Tariana Turia said something along these lines recently — that the gulf that opened up seven centuries ago with the migration to these islands is being rebridged in south Auckland and similar places. Polynesia is reassembling there. Of course, Maori are pre-eminent. I am not suggesting otherwise. But there is now a recognisable Pacific dimension to our culture. I call that the Pacific-ation of New Zealand.

This is still in its early stages. But I think that demographics and the turnover of generations will embed this Pacific dimension over time. To return to kapa haka, anyone under 25 will almost certainly have experienced it at school firsthand. They may not like it but they know it. The over-50s don’t. To them it is a display, not a part of their upbringing. And kapa haka will evolve. And as it evolves it will be a specifically New Zealand expression. It will be a definer of our culture — and by “our” I mean all of us.

The upshot of this is that this country will become a Pacific country. Till now we have been in the Pacific but not of the Pacific. I think over the next generation or two we will become of the Pacific, too. That will have profound implications for how we view and how we deal with Australia. Australians already find our defence posture incomprehensible. They will find much more about us incomprehensible in 20 or 30 years time.

None of this will be easy. Orewa I showed how problematic this Pacific-ation is. There will be a great deal of tension over Maori rights and taonga and place in the power structure. Don Brash thinks article 2 is only about property rights, which I think shows a profound ignorance of the Treaty. There are many Don Brashes and they are not all 63 and sometime they will likely be in government.

And think through what might happen if the Maori party wins five or six seats. This would not only most likely produce an overhang in Parliament but also give Maori disproportionately high representation in Parliament — that is, more Maori as a proportion of Parliament than as a proportion of the population. That is because (a) most Labour MPs defeated in the Maori electorates will come in on the list anyway, (b) National will have at least one more Maori in Parliament and (c) New Zealand First probably won’t lose any of its Maori MPs.

Imagine the carping on talkback, the demands to abolish the Maori seats. And the retorts that under the Treaty “proportional” is half, as Whata Winiata would have it.

So there will be tension and ebbing and flowing and much very difficult politics. But I have more optimistic days about the way we will handle that than pessimistic ones. No angry Maori has blown up anything or anyone. The white racist organisations are tiny and focused more on immigrants. For all the bar-room and dinner-table talk, the reindigenising revolution has not yet provoked a serious standoff. I think that says something very important about this nation as it goes through intense change.

So for the moment at least the Treaty’s two taniwha are quiescent: the ghost of dispossession past and maybe future on the Maori side; and the spectre stalking the cultural security of the non-Maori majority.

It is just as well the taniwha are quiet. This is a crucial moment in our history. I think we are right now on a cusp in the evolution of this society, this arrangement between two peoples. If Hobson’s “he iwi tahi tatou” is not to be a sham, now is the time of truth.

I think the Treaty focus is moving — has been moving for some years now — from rights to development. Most of the big rights battles have been fought and an accommodation of sorts reached that holds most Aotearoans/New Zealanders in the tent (if not yet in the whare). I am finding a growing number of Maori in their 30s whose principal interest is in educational and economic development, rather than in pushing the boundaries of rangatiratanga. They have not turned their backs on rights. If I look for a parallel it is with women in the 1980s: women worried to me that their daughters were not feminists; in fact, their daughters were every bit as feminist as they were but took the big battles as won and were more interested in parlaying those victories into personal advancement and thereby women’s advancement as a whole.

I don’t want to overstate this. My evidence is anecdotal and unsystematic and scattered. And these are early days. I may be wrong. But so far the evidence is running my way.

And this is part of something bigger that is taking place: the development of the Maori middle class. Again, my information is anecdotal and these are early days. But I think the changes in education in the 1990s are now starting to generate significant numbers of articulate, trained professionals and entrepreneurs. That adds up to a middle class.

And what does a middle class do? It makes wealth in its society — that development theme again. And it individualises, modernises and democratises that society. Just look at east Asia.

My guess is that iwi, hapu and whanau are about to go through great changes over the next generation or so. There is nothing new in that: colonisation forced great changes and much of the ferment of the past three decades has been to recover the spirit that was broken in that process — to reindigenise. But this time the changes will come from within and will build on and outwards from the reindigenisation, that recovery of spirit. There will be painful and turbulent challenges to tradition and tikanga and those whose positions and power depend on tradition and tikanga. That is what individualists and modernisers and democrats do. But overall they do good.

Democrats challenge rank and privilege. They value merit and mandate. If the emerging Maori middle class acts as middle classes elsewhere have acted through history — and there is no reason to think it won’t — it will upset the old order and in the process upset the old who depend on the old order. Indeed, to my inexpert eye, this is already happening in places. So my guess is that iwi and hapu will be unrecognisable a generation or two hence though they will be no less iwi and hapu for all that they are democratic.

Modernisers value science and technology and the rule of law and good management and the material wealth that can bring. So in te ao Maori they will challenge whakapapa and say it can’t explain everything in the modern world. They will challenge whanaungatanga as a principle of organisation and say that it makes mistakes in handling commercial enterprises and social services delivery agencies. Ngai Tahu knows about that, to its great advantage, but Te Waananga o Aotearoa didn’t. The emerging middle class will be much less tolerant of such wastefulness and wantonness. It will need to be if it is to keep the respect of its peers in the rest of society.

And individualists individualise. Impossible? Maori tradition and culture is hostile to individualisation? Yeah right. Plenty of land sales in the nineteenth century were by individuals acting without consensus. The Taranaki wars started that way.

This individualisation will, of course, draw on the habits of the other Treaty partner that lives within almost every Maori: the ex-British habits. I said Maori (and Pacific) culture will increasingly influence and shape mainstream culture over the next generation or two. But the newly reindigenised Maori will themselves be open to renewed influence from the newly indigenised ex-British — this time, not the forced influence of colonisation but the valued influence of a long history and heritage. Maori are also ex-British, with a claim to that heritage.

I don’t mean by that to paint some sort of light brown blancmange. That was the fond wish of the integrationists 40 years ago and it hasn’t happened and can’t happen. What I mean is a constant cross-fertilisation that creates a complex but unified culture out of the diverging cultures of the past three decades: the two taniwha of the Treaty lying down together.

It will help if we do manage that. For beyond the Treaty is a great common challenge: Asia. We are in the Chinese sphere of influence now. We need to be strong in our culture, our complex joined culture, if we are to meet and thrive in and get the best out of that challenge.

And if I am wrong? If the two taniwha of the Treaty drive division and decay? That is entirely possible. I could paint you a very different picture of the future for the next generation or two and I could give plenty of evidence, some of it embedded in the edgy politics of this election. It just happens that I think the evidence for my positive scenario is stronger. Pity I won’t live long enough to know for sure. There is so much learning to do.

Thank you for offering me the chance to learn some more this weekend.