Diatribe - 13

Race relations in New Zealand is delicate discussion territory. I donít pretend by any means to be an expert on the subject. Iím not a law student, I have never studied the Treaty outside of fourth form social studies, I am not Maori, Iím as pale and pasty as they come and I am originally from Christchurch.

Despite this deep, expansive ignorance I do have some reasonably passionate beliefs when it comes to the way our nation approaches the issue of indigenous rights. New Zealand is distracted and incapable, it seems, of moving past these distractions. I have two major rant-worthy gripes.
 
Firstly, I find it incredibly annoying when people complain about “Maori privilege”. Paris Hilton is privileged. Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, is privileged. John Key, with a $9 million mansion in Parnell and a $3 million holiday home in Hawaii, is privileged. A few scholarships here and a few treaty claims there do not, I believe, make our indigenous people privileged. Considering our ancestors slaughtered them, took their land and then used that land to acquire wealth and privilege, a scholarship is probably the least we can do.
 
The question should not be is it right that Maori get “special treatment”, it should be is the kind of special treatment we currently offer effectively addressing significant health and poverty issues in New Zealand? Ethnic-based funding certainly has its problems, but we should support/oppose it on the basis of its effectiveness, not because it allegedly constitutes “reverse-racism”. Man I hate it when people say that.
 
The way the debate is framed in the media and around four-burner barbeques in Epsom makes it sound like Maori get more than they deserve. And considering that Maori are significantly overrepresented in poverty, health and crime statistics that is, quite frankly, a ridiculous proposition. Propelling this viewpoint encourages bigotry. And Don Brash.
 
Second major gripe: the Treaty.
 
How is that in one corner you have Mr Harawira claiming that the Treaty was a partnership between two peoples and in the other Mr Brash scoffs at the word “partnership” and bleats something about one law and one nation? Two people reading the same document and reaching diametrically opposed conclusions. It’s really not ideal that 170 years later we still don’t know what that piece of paper means, particularly considering that the principles (whatever they are) of that piece of paper theoretically underpin our entire society. This contention gets in the way of real discussion about the place Maori hold in New Zealand society.
 
Talking about privilege and interpretation are distractions from the real issues. It’s a complete waste of time and yet the debates continue. We talk around, beside and over the point but rarely do we talk about it. Politicians don’t enjoy navigating this discussion because it’s tricky. They either sound racist or “reverse-racist”; they just can’t win. Instead it is left to radical and polarising figures, exemplified brilliantly by Don and Hone, who once again fail to move past the distractions and have a real discussion about Maoridom.
Posted 12:55am Friday 1st July 2011 by Amelia Pond.