Sunday 15 May 2022

History Lessons.

That’s a C- for History, Kelvin! While it is certainly understandable that Māori-Crown Relations Minister Kelvin Davis was not anxious to castigate every Pakeha member of the House of Representatives for the crimes committed against his people by their ancestors; crimes from which his Labour colleagues continue to draw enormous benefits; the direction of his prosecutorial rhetoric at National and Act MPs exclusively was historically indefensible and morally obnoxious.

I SURE HOPE Kelvin Davis wasn’t a history teacher before he became a principal and then Te Tai Tokerau’s MP. Why? Because his grasp of what happened in this country between the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi and today isn’t just wrong, it also has the potential to create great mischief.

The speech he delivered to the House of Representatives on Wednesday (11/5/22) is a particularly grim example of the Minister for Māori-Crown Relations historical ignorance. In it he appeared to equate the Opposition parties with the entire Pakeha population – past and present. This was more than just racially inflammatory, it represents a dangerous distortion of reality.

Addressing the Opposition Benches, Davis declared: “They conveniently overlook the fact that their wealth, their privilege and their authority was built off the backs of other people’s misery and entrenched inequality across generations.”

This is interesting. National’s leader, Christopher Luxon, was born in 1970, and the Act leader, David Seymour, in 1983. At the ages of 52 and 39 respectively, that doesn’t leave them many generations across which to have inflicted misery and entrenched inequality! He would have been on slightly firmer ground if he had been addressing his remarks to Labour’s Roger Douglas – whose policies did indeed inflict misery and inequality. Perhaps not across generations, but certainly since 1984. Except, of course, Labour MPs don’t like to draw attention to those policies – mostly on account of the fact that their party has done so little over nearly 40 years to reverse them.

Davis did considerably better, historically, when he described to the House the fate of his ancestors at the hands of Nineteenth Century colonial authorities. The gradual consolidation of the colonial state, its laws and regulations, effectively dispossessed Davis’s forebears, leaving them destitute and demoralised.

What Davis failed to mention, however, is that the Nineteenth Century dispossession of the Māori was Crown policy. More importantly, it was a process cheered to the echo by the overwhelming majority of the burgeoning Pakeha population. Rich and poor alike understood that their future prosperity was contingent upon the immiseration of the “native” population. Meaning that it wasn’t just the ancestors of the present Opposition MPs who built their wealth and privilege off the backs of his tupuna, but also the present crop of Pakeha Labour MPs seated alongside him.

While it is certainly understandable that Davis was not anxious to castigate every Pakeha member of the House of Representatives for the crimes committed against his people by their ancestors; crimes from which they continue, as a people, to draw enormous benefits; the direction of his prosecutorial rhetoric at National and Act MPs exclusively was historically indefensible and morally obnoxious.

If Davis is unaware that the single most devastating economic and social assault upon Māori of the last 50 years occurred on the Fourth Labour Government’s watch, then he has no business being an MP – let alone the Minister of Māori-Crown Relations. Certainly he cannot have forgotten that it was the Fifth Labour Government which oversaw the passage of the Seabed and Foreshore legislation. Or, that it was a Labour Prime Minister, Helen Clark, who described the leading opponents of that legislation as “haters and wreckers” – preferring to meet with an excessively woolly ram than with the tangata whenua her proposed law had so enraged.

Maybe the reckless willingness of the Sixth Labour Government to embrace the co-governance agenda of its Māori caucus is a delayed reaction to the actions of the Fourth and the Fifth. If so, then it is a very foolish reaction. Had Helen Clark and her Attorney-General not moved with speed to reverse the Court of Appeal’s overturning of what had been considered settled law, then Don Brash would, almost certainly, have won the 2005 General Election. Given that a National victory in 2005 would have meant the effective re-nullification of the Treaty and the abolition of the Māori Seats – thereby provoking civil war – Māori and Pakeha both owe her a tremendous debt of gratitude.

The depressing thing about the politics of the moment is the apparent historical amnesia of just about all its practitioners. The Settler Nation responsible for extinguishing the Treaty in the 1860s is simply not prepared to see it reinstated as New Zealand’s de facto constitution in the 2020s. The way Davis chose to deliver his thoughts to the House of Representatives: in the form of an attack on the Opposition; shows just how impossible it is to construct an argument about our history that does not inevitably boil down to the equivalent of Sir Michael Cullen’s memorable taunt: “We won. You lost. Eat that!”

The most frightening aspect of Davis’s performance is that it showed no signs that the Minister of Māori-Crown relations has the slightest idea of what will happen to that relationship if co-governance is forced upon an unwilling Pakeha nation.

Davis’s colleague, Willie Jackson, has labelled the Act leader a “useless Māori” and “a dangerous man”. But David Seymour is no more or less “useless” than those Māori iwi and hapu that saw which way the wind was blowing in the 1850s and 60s and ended up fighting alongside General Cameron’s imperial troops. As for being a dangerous man. Well, Jackson’s description can only be proven if Seymour and his party attract sufficient support to enforce the implementation of Act’s radical policies. He will be a dangerous man only because his fellow New Zealanders have made him one – by voting for him.

It’s not Seymour that poses a danger to you and your people, Willie, it’s democracy. But, then, you already knew that, didn’t you?

By the same token, it’s not the Opposition that has somehow cornered all the privilege, Kelvin, nor is it the exclusive property of the 63 percent of the New Zealand population known as Pakeha. These fair-skinned Polynesians are not – and never will be – “Europeans”. Just as contemporary Māori are not – and never will be again – the Māori who inhabited these islands before colonisation. Both peoples are the victims of historical forces too vast for blame, too permanent for guilt.

It is high time we stopped using History as a weapon, and started relying upon it as a guide.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 13 May 2022.


Anonymous said...

I am a NewZealander (Pakeha is not how I think of myself), with working class English grandparents (now deceased) who came to New Zealand in the mid 20th century. I do not see anything that happened to the Maori in the 19th century as being down to my ancestors. And I believe much of our current population is also those who came in the 20th or 21st century or descended from them, who probably too don't feel like they are great oppressors/ privileged etc when we have followed laws, work for what we get and so on.

Isn't it rather racist to group all white people together, that used to be the essence of racism- grouping people and judging people on basis of race rather than on their own merits.

Unfortunately since it is the crown which committed injustices, it then levies current tax payers and New Zealanders to pay the settlements and so on, but I find the whole white privilege/ Paheha bad thing rather tiresome and divisive. My idea of New Zealand being speical is because it is a place where one's class and race don't matter.

Kat said...

"It is high time we stopped using History as a weapon, and started relying upon it as a guide.........."

Best of luck with that thought.

There is just so much differing opinion, disinformation, distrust and outright bigotry to get through that it would be a monumental challenge for anyone to even explain how history can be interpreted, documented and universally agreed upon so as to be a reliable guide through the ages.

Its time to jump not hesitate:

Doug Longmire said...

Very well put, Chris.
The hypocrisy of millionaires like Davis who are on high salaries, with taxpayer subsidised superannuation, is quite egregious.

Chris Morris said...

The issue now is that the woke left-leaning parties (of which Labour is one) is they do not know what facts or truth actually mean, let alone use them. Under the post-modern narrative, history has to be the lived experiences with no absolute facts. If their current beliefs don't match the history books, then the books are wrong. And the definitions of words are not fixed or what you find in dictionaries. So it means that we get speeches like Kelvin's, and the media don't call him out on it.
No doubt they are also wondering why all those tradies and their families in the middle class suburbs (many of whom are Maori) are abandoning the left. No doubt they will kid themselves it is because they are poor racist/ misguided fools swayed by mis-information. The truth that the Labour policies are either unpopular to the middle class, who do they want to be ruled by an unelected Maori elite.

Trev1 said...

"It is high time we stopped using History as a weapon, and started relying upon it as a guide." I could not agree more, but that is not the direction this government has set, particularly with its race-baiting and utterly distorted history curriculum.

Kelvin Davis is not his four times great-grandfather whom he referred to as a victim of pakeha greed in his inflammatory diatribe. He is a modern-day hybrid of both races and cultures. It's time he learned to acknowledge his whole ancestry.

Anonymous said...

Entirely correct
Davis didn’t reference “History” he simply piled lie on lie and hoped no one would notice With the rest of his politically suicidal caucus this fake race outrage will destroy their own Government

Jason Barrier said...

As our great historian, Michael King notes, in Being Pakeha Now "The truth is we all, Maori and Pakeha have skeletons...The point is that such historical baggage ought not to be used as a weapon by which one culture beats and abuses another. That kind of posturing, climbing on the shoulders of the past to sneer and abuse others in the present, is productive and counterproductive only of negativity and conflict". Micheal's wisdom is increasingly prescient and relevant today.

David George said...

Kelvin and Willie and Co have become increasingly dismissive of the possibility of a democratic resolution, to say nothing of Waititi's disgusting description/denigration of democratic principles themselves as a manifestation of "caucasity". Jacinda has chimed in with the need for a more "sophisticated" version of democracy. Really? Do these people seriously think that we, the people, are willing to vote to be treated with complete distain, our votes a nuisance, meaningless.

There's a chorus of support, in the media and among a coterie of arrogant, elitist allies jumping to their cause. Chris Finlayson with his arrogant, "we know best" comment for example: “I simply say to people, one, there’s a new regime, get with it folks; two, Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
“We’ve just got to leave those losers behind and move on. They don’t like tangata whenua. They dream of a world that never was and never could be,” he says. How about no Chris!

There's a theme here, the war on the principles of liberal democracy is part of a more general assault on the west itself; a war on it's history, it's heroes and, more disturbingly, it's people.

John Hurley said...

Robbie Nichol struggles with the burden of our past. he doesn't know how stalwarts like Nickey Hager and cool people (at Otaki Camp) can just get on with life and not be affected by it.
He's doing his bit though thanks to RNZ helping him to get the message out

Anonymous said...

Thanks for raising this Chris. It’s a conversation that needs to be had in the context of moving forward without bitterness, acrimony and racism as a nation. Many Pakeha are open to listen, learn and work in partnership. By all means, acknowledge the inter generational hurt and loss, and learn the extent to which it has impacted Māori. I’m open to be educated. I just don’t want the hostility and accusation that comes with the history. Not because it’s uncomfortable, because it’s pointless. It doesn’t move us forward and is more inclined to shut down dialogue. Likewise, tikanga is unfamiliar territory for many Pakeha and that engenders a bit of anxiety about venturing forth embracing it with open arms. Making a mistake, causing offence, mispronunciation - these are all fears that many friends have described and it’s easy not to try, particularly if the effort is accompanied by open aggression and contempt towards Pakeha by some who think we are still fighting the Maori wars in 2022. I’ve been on a marae as a guest, seated at lunch with hostile whanau who made me feel like a colonialist. It took me years to go back to a marae, and want to engage. We won’t move forward as a nation as long as this accusatory atmosphere prevails.

David George said...

On the recent moves against, sorry, re-defining democracy, I'm sure that Winston will be hammering this to the full come election time. It really is a big FU to the Kiwi voters that will backfire big time for the government. Good.

I really am surprised they've staked so much political capital on co-governance. It's never been explained how your typical Maori stands to gain from an outsized influence by a few tribal elites over urban waste, storm and drinking water infrastructure for example. Anyone? The iwi elites will doubtless be handsomely rewarded but, barring corruption and partisan motivations, there's nothing in it (co-governance) for the Maori people generally, never mind everyone else.

Anonymous said...

Chris, perhaps your apparently prescient thoughts & comments in 2004 may help us find more common ground today. It would be interesting to hear whether any of your perspective has changed.


Jack Scrivano said...

One of my cousins, a retired QC, has been spending some of his new-found spare time tracing one of the strands of our family. So far, he has managed to establish (pretty much beyond doubt) that our forebears were farming in The Cotswolds for several generations before William the Bastard’s invasion and colonisation of fair Albion. Robin and I are, therefore, thinking about writing to The Queen and demanding co-governance over Windsor Castle, the BBC, and the NHS. What do you think our prospects are?

Anonymous said...

C- is generous, more like a conceeded D. As in "cannot go on to higher things without re-sitting, and doing better, first". Unfortunately, the tendency to unreservedly praise all things Maori and unreservedly damn all things "colonialist" is affecting even institutions that should be do doing better.

I recently re-visited the Auckland War Memorial Museum gallery where the Maori meeting house is preserved. I was pleased to see a polite notice asking visitors to remove their shoes before entering the meeting house. A small courtesy, but absent when I first visited as a boy (quite a while ago now). Next to the meeting house is a display of the Bastion Point struggle. I was an active, (non-Maori), supporter, especially during the first occupation.

I was struck by a claim on the display that everything was removed on the day of the eviction. Not totally true I thought, they didn't dare touch the memorial to Joe Hawke's niece. I may be getting less perceptive with advancing age, but I couldn't see it recorded in the display that a child died in an accidental fire during the occupation.

I may be wrong, but I don't think that was an accidental oversight. The awful truth that a Maori child died in a dreadful accident, that deeply affected the occupiers, was overlooked to avoid any racist reaction. ("Useless Maori, can't even keep their own kids safe" etc. etc. etc.)

Equally, the fact that even touching her memorial was a bridge too far for the authorities might be seen as unnecessarily humanizing the brutal and ruthless agents of the "colonialist" state.

I think the facts that a child died during the occupation, that there was a memorial to her on site, and the memorial was left intact on eviction day, should be recorded accurately. I think it was a small win on the day of the eviction. It also marked a far, far bigger win, a seismic shift in public opinion towards favouring redressing some of the great injustices of the past.

I think that shift is now swinging back the other way, towards saying "No, enough is enough". This is driven in part by the overblown rhetoric and dishonestly distorted version of history used by the government, and it's supporters, and unfortunately, echoed now even in reputable museums.

John Hurley said...

The gradual consolidation of the colonial state, its laws and regulations, effectively dispossessed Davis’s forebears, leaving them destitute and demoralised.
Edward Thesiger described Abu Dhabi as "an abomination" in the 1940's; the Bedouin were "a magnificent people".

You look at the Maori diorama in Canterbury Museum and they could use some sprucing up (by today's standard eg Adidas sneakers). But they would have had a dignity of their own.

Imagine then when the settlers brought sheep (100,000 and 2000 cattle by 1853).

Even my cousin from Church Bay said (some time back) how it pains him to see houses built where he used to roam as a boy.

However in today's world this is socially constructed grievance.

All societies are diverse, but Aotearoa New Zealand is particularly and increasingly so. In that sense, it is a giant societal experiment that is grappling with marrying both biculturalism and multiculturalism and seeking a smooth path ahead that acknowledges these critical elements of its history, identity, and composition. The nation was founded out of competition for land and resources (that still required in-group cohesion and collaboration to function), including pre-European inter-tribal competition for mana, and then an agreement between Māori and the Crown via Te Tiriti o Waitangi. This sought to acknowledge tino rangatiratanga, but ultimately failed to do so appropriately.
It was never an agreement
It is nonetheless generally accepted that Māori have a unique constitutional, historical, and moral position within Aotearoa. In the country’s more recent history, there has been a project to strengthen biculturalism and to enhance the mana and position of te ao Māori, while at the same time witnessing and hopefully embracing rapid multicultural shifts (Durie, 2005; Peach, 2018; Stewart, 2018)
Funny how Maori attitudes to migration "are trending down" (Spoonley) but Spoonley's crowd have their grubby hands all over the media with hugs from the sector that collects the rent and builds the infrastructure.


If all the polemical words*(and clearly "bigoted" ones too from both sides) ... words spoken and written about NZ race relations were distilled, it would come down to this...

Quote CT (brill!)

" Both peoples are the victims of historical forces too vast for blame, too permanent for guilt.

It is high time we stopped using History as a weapon and started relying upon it as a guide."

Wow ... Nuff said ... and in a nutshell.

* Disputatious and controversial words or speech.



"As our great historian, Michael King notes, in Being Pakeha Now "The truth is we all, Maori and Pakeha have skeletons..."


King did more for informed historically precise Pakeha than perhaps even Belich or Sinclair.

Certainly ... more than Kelvin could even dream (hallucinate) ... of.