06 February, 2013

Waitangi - our national day of shame

Yes I hate to say it, but it's true. It seems that we can't get our heads around the fact that we're supposed to remember a contract between the settlers of the time and the indigenous people, the Maori. And remember it without arguing about it. Instead, it's become a day when the Maori air their ongoing grievances, often with each other within the Maori community. This often means that our esteemed leaders get caught up as collateral damage, with previous instances of our Prime Ministers being reduced to tears (Helen Clarke), showered with manure (Don Brash), or other unfortunate incidents.

It is difficult to nail down any one specific reason why this should be so, as there are multiple reasons for dissatisfaction. Maori feel hard done by, and that the Crown never fully paid reparation for their excesses against the Maori people. European descendants often see that the Maori are just whining for the sake of it, or more seriously, trying to bankrupt us so that they can see their issues with suitable redress. I'm just an average New Zealander of European descent, so I can't speak with any authority on these matters. Looking at the Treaty made my eyes glaze over, but looking at the conflicts between Maori and Pakeha (the Maori name for European immigrants) made me angry.

Injustices on both sides have led to generational grievances that don't ever seem to get entirely settled to the satisfaction of either party. As a result, I perceive that Maori, even if they have been through a settlement process, often realise later on: "Oh wait, we never knew THIS..." and kick off another settlement process, bogging the whole procedure down in what amounts to red tape.

Is there a way to fix it? Perhaps. Is there a way to fix it that will entirely satisfy all parties? Not a hope. Can we possibly come to an agreement that everyone can put up with? Perhaps, but it's taking far too long. Members of the current Government want this dealt with, over and done with, and finished up so we as New Zealanders can get on with making this country better. Not we as Pakeha and Maori. New Zealanders. They don't wish any distinction between us. But the Maori want distinction, so they don't lose their culture. And frankly, what race doesn't?

In addition, it also seems that even the Maori can't agree amongst themselves what they want, and neither can the Pakeha. Factions exist both within Maori and within Pakeha that regularly strain attempts at reconciliation, resulting in outbursts that regularly stain our reputation as a multi-racial nation that tolerates diversity, encourages distinctions, and supports culture in a way that few other countries attain to. Put simply, we are not tolerant. We are not supportive of cultural diversity. We don't like distinctions between us, and we don't support other cultures when they conflict with our own solidly held beliefs about how we think the world should be.

We don't like difference. And yet we must have it, or we'll become just another Western country like all the other Western nations. We need all the things I have mentioned. So why can't we stop arguing?

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