I’M NOT all that interested in Maori Separatism. It does not require much in the way of historical or rhetorical skill to construct an argument that Maori have lived separate lives for most of this country’s colonial history. Prior to World War II they lived separate lives in the countryside. After World War II they lived separate lives in places like Otara and Porirua. Their ongoing separation from the Pakeha world is plainly visible as you drive up Highway One into Northland. Drive through Moerewa, then through Kerikeri, and you’ll see what I mean.
If you really wanted to be hard-nosed about it, you could argue that a hell of a lot of Pakeha would be most unhappy if Maori separatism could suddenly be brought to an end. If the barriers of income, occupation and education were dissolved, and New Zealanders of all colours and creeds found themselves living on the same street – lawyers next door to check-out operators, doctors next door to cleaners – I rather suspect the reaction would fall well short of easy acceptance. In my experience, “racial tolerance” increases in inverse proportion to the proximity of economically deprived ethnicities.
Logically, if Maori are agitating to have themselves sealed-off from the Pakeha world, then all the white supremacists out there should be celebrating. If, as suggested in the extraordinary He Puapua report, Aotearoa should, once again, be divided into distinct and autonomous tribal territories – on the model of Tuhoe – Maori might be surprised at the number of Pakeha eager to facilitate their repatriation. Although, the white supremacists might not be quite so enthusiastic when they realised that colonial land-titles were most unlikely to survive the Maori exodus.
Personally, I am doubtful whether many Maori would be all that keen to up stakes and return to their rohe. In all of human history there has been nothing even remotely as liberating as the big city. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine the individualism that underpins contemporary global culture surviving in any other setting. Historically-speaking, traditional societies tended to be uncompromisingly collectivist. But, living under the watchful eyes of the group, leaves very few places for the individual to be truly alone. It took centuries for people to identify themselves self-consciously with the first person singular: “I” is a reasonably recent invention.
Ironically, it is individualistic Maori who have done the most to break down Maori separatism. I vividly recall walking back from a seminar alongside the then National Party MP, Murray McCully. He was dismissive of the Maori nationalist agenda, pointing out with considerable relish than many more Maori voted for National than voted for the Maori Party. Given that the Party Vote for Te Paati Maori in 2020 was just 33,630, he was probably right. McCully referenced figures like Winston Peters as examples of indigenous men and women who identified themselves proudly as New Zealanders first and Maori second.
This is very far from being a recent phenomenon. From the very beginnings of European colonisation there were Maori who reached out eagerly to grasp the possibilities presented to them by the Pakeha colonisers. Even when the settler government, backed by 12,000 imperial troops, attacked Tawhiao’s Waikato kingdom in 1863, as many as 50 percent of the Maori population either threw in their lot with the British Crown, or maintained a studied neutrality. The strength and vitality of contemporary Maori culture owes much to these kupapa Maori. By opting to bend, they avoided being broken.
Presumably, these were the people Dr Ranginui Walker had in mind when he said the differences between Maori and Pakeha would ultimately be reconciled in the bedroom. Genetically-speaking, it’s a difficult claim to refute. Indeed, to argue otherwise one is required to adopt the bizarre “racial science” of the American South.
In the states of the old Confederacy, to possess so much as a single drop of “African” blood was to lose forever the privilege of calling oneself (or being called) “white”. Here in New Zealand it’s the other way ‘round. To possess even a single Maori ancestor – no matter how distant – is to be permanently and indisputably tangata whenua. That being the case, the very notion of Maori separatism must eventually be rendered a nonsense. All New Zealanders will be Maori – and vice-versa.
Which still leaves us with the separation imposed by socio-economic deprivation – a condition in which a disproportionate number of Maori find themselves trapped. Sadly, New Zealand society is becoming increasingly divided on the question of how best to free the Maori poor from their poverty.
Should their situation be addressed as a manifestation of the economic and social injustices inherent in free-market capitalism; or, is it the inevitable consequence of colonial oppression, white privilege and institutional racism? If it’s the former, then Maori and Pakeha can tackle the problem together. If it’s the latter, then the only effective solutions are those set forth in He Puapua. Maori and Pakeha will have to develop separately.
This is the separation that truly troubles me. Not the separation of Maori from Pakeha, but the division of New Zealand society into two mutually incomprehensible camps. The first camp, highly-educated and well-remunerated, is concentrated occupationally in the caring, teaching and communications professions, and in the administration and governance of society generally. The second, much larger, camp is composed of just about everybody else.
In the first camp, the ideas contained in He Puapua are regarded as both morally correct and politically necessary (not least because they will have to be implemented by people like themselves). For those in the second camp, such ideas (when they are comprehended at all) are perceived as dangerous and divisive. With Maori in both camps, this societal bifurcation has nothing to do with ethnicity. New Zealanders are being separated by an ideology which elevates cultural difference above social solidarity.
Personally speaking, I cannot think of a better way of bringing Maori and Pakeha together than to try and impose an ideology committed to forcing them apart.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 6 May 2021.