At the heart of this revolution is an evolving understanding of what sort of country we live in – and would like to live in. The clearest description of this revolution and its ultimate objectives that I have read so far is contained in a tweet posted in the name of Maori Party co-leader, Rawiri Waititi. To describe the tweet as jarring would be something of an understatement:
NEW ZEALAND is in the early stages of a revolution. No, not one of those revolutions. The streets are not overflowing with revolutionary crowds. The factories have not been taken over by the workers. The old constitutional order has not been cast aside. The nation’s historical time-line has not been reset to Year Zero. But, make no mistake, a revolution is underway.
The cau casity of Caucasian’s and their ‘active assimilation agenda’. Pay them no attention, their archaic species is becoming more extinct as new Aotearoa is on the rise. Tangata Whenua + Tangata Tiriti = Aotearoa > Tangata Whenua + Pakeha = Old Zealand.
Waititi was quick to distance himself from this message, describing it as the work of someone in his office who acted without his authority. Setting to one side the obvious question: “What kind of office is Waititi running?”, the tweet’s content offers New Zealanders a raw and unmediated synopsis of the Maori Party’s revolutionary agenda. “Transformative” barely covers it!
The first element to note is the highly charged racial vocabulary. “Caucasian” is being used, rather than Pakeha, in much the same way as the latter once referred to Maori as “Polynesians”, and for the same purpose. To subsume a geographically and culturally specific identity into a much larger and more general racial category.
Very clearly, it is not a nice category. In the exercise of their “caucacity”, Caucasians are accused of pursuing an “active assimilation agenda”.
This is a curious charge. Historically, “assimilation” was very much on the agenda of the New Zealand state. In the years after World War II, as Maori began migrating from the countryside to the big cities in large numbers, doing everything possible to turn them into “ordinary” New Zealanders was generally regarded as the most “progressive” policy response available to the authorities. Think of it as an early iteration of the “They are Us” formulation.
The intention was to create a “colour-blind” society. The key category was “citizen” – with all that implied about equality of access to gainful employment, housing, health and education. An excessive focus on racial identity was seen as unhelpful in this regard. The objective was a nation in which the terms “Maori” and “Pakeha” counted for much less than “New Zealander”. It is to the policy of assimilation that the members of “Hobson’s Pledge” pay homage with their insistence that we must all become “one people”.
What makes the tweet’s claim that an “active assimilation policy” is still part of the New Zealand state’s agenda so odd, is that the term “assimilation” long ago became a very dirty word in the corridors of power. From the 1980s onwards the clear policy of successive governments has been to support and strengthen the unique features of te ao Maori. From the Treaty of Waitangi Act of 1975 to the establishment of Kohanga Reo and the recognition of Maori as an official language, the direction of travel has been all one way: from mono-culturalism to bi-culturalism.
It was Donna Awatere, author of the seminal series of Broadsheet articles entitled “Maori Sovereignty”, who rejected this new goal of a bi-cultural New Zealand as insufficiently ambitious. Inspired by the irredentist national strategy of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, she argued for a sovereign Maori nation, freed from the constitutional, economic, political and cultural hegemony of the colonial culture which had, through the judicious application of force and guile, supplanted her own.
Following the Palestinians, Awatere argued for a strategy which is best described as “reverse colonisation”. On the one hand, delegitimise the colonisers’ occupation of lands that were never theirs; on the other, offer them the opportunity of assimilating themselves into Aotearoa, the sovereign Maori state that would slowly, surely, and non-violently, replace the colonial relic known as New Zealand. (Those with long memories will recall that for as long as it remained a revolutionary socialist organisation, the creation of a unitary, secular, Palestinian state, continued to be the PLO’s ultimate goal.)
Although Awatere’s personal evolution took her further and further away from the revolutionary vision that inspired “Maori Sovereignty”, her ideas and perspectives were taken up and developed by Maori nationalists across the country.
Perhaps the best way to get an idea of the revolutionary processes at work in this country, is to conduct a thought experiment involving another one.
Imagine that the Palestinians living in the occupied territories, rather than descending ever deeper into terrorism and religious zealotry, had adopted the non-violent civil-disobedience tactics of Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Further imagine that the progressive Israeli political parties, urged on by the Americans, had responded by negotiating seriously with the PLO.
Consider the speed with which the whole situation in Israel/Palestine might have been transformed; the exciting possibility that young Jews and Arabs, together, might have mapped out a future in which the land of Israel/Palestine was deemed to have physical and cultural space enough for both peoples. Who knows, they may even have persuaded their political leaders to set up a permanent tribunal to hear and settle the many grievances arising out of the excesses of Zionist colonisation.
Gradually, thanks in no small part to the state education system and state media, the fearless elucidation of Zionism’s manifest injustices might have persuaded a critical mass of young Israelis to abandon their country’s name altogether. Slowly, surely, non-violently, “Israel” might have come to be known, once again, as “Palestine”.
Impossible? Certainly, Israel/Palestine has a great many more obstacles to overcome than New Zealand/Aotearoa. Still, if Jew and Arab had stopped firing bullets at each other way back in the 1870s and started marrying each other in great numbers – who knows where that unfortunate land might be today?
Which brings us back to that interesting tweet: and to what is undoubtedly its most objectionable sentence: “Pay them no attention, their archaic species is becoming more extinct as new Aotearoa is on the rise.”
Now, viewed from the perspective of those whose ancestors were, at the turn of the 19th Century, confidently expected to become “die out”, this sort of gloating racism is, perhaps, forgivable. From the perspective of the descendants of the colonisers, however, it sounds unnervingly like a direct challenge – an existential threat.
That sentiments like these could so easily put the chant of the White Supremacists at Charlottesville: “You will not replace us!”; into the mouths of angry Pakeha, clearly never occurred to whoever sent out the tweet in Rawiri Waititi’s name. Or (and this is a much more distressing thought) maybe it did?
Waititi is, therefore, to be commended for the speed with which he moved to defuse this political IED. Within a few hours, he had re-written the tweet, and clarified his own position on the slow revolution unfolding all around us:
A new Aotearoa is on the rise. Tangata Whenua (Māori) + Tangata Tiriti (all other ethnicities who are committed to a tiriti centric Aotearoa) = the Aotearoa I believe in fighting for.
Strewth! When you put it like that, Rawiri, so do I.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 5 March 2021