HOW QUICKLY THINGS CHANGE. Three years ago Chile was racked by massive protest demonstrations. Hundreds of thousands of mostly young, mostly poor, Chileans served notice on their government that the moment had arrived for their country to execute a decisive break with its recent past. Politically, economically, and culturally, they said, Chile was ready to ditch the debilitating legacy of General Augusto Pinochet’s 17-year-long dictatorship. Most particularly, “Pinochet’s Straightjacket” – the 1980 constitution he imposed upon Chile as the price it must pay for even a limited restoration of democracy – must go.
For a while, it looked as though the youth of Chile, the poor of Chile, the women of Chile, and the indigenous peoples of Chile, would get their wish. A Constitutional Convention was convened. Delegates were elected from every part of Chile who engaged in passionate debates over the nature and purpose of the new rights to be enshrined in their nation’s fundamental law. When they were finished, the delegates submitted what they proudly described as the world’s most progressive constitution to the Chilean people for ratification.
According to The Guardian: “The proposed constitution: included a long list of social rights and guarantees that had appeared to respond to the demands of [the vast social movement that had called it into existence]. It enshrined gender parity across government and other organs of the state – for the first time anywhere in the world – prioritised environmental protection and recognised Chile’s Indigenous peoples for the first time in the country’s history.”
The new constitution also enshrined the social and economic rights which Pinochet’s dictatorship had swept away in the coup d’état that toppled Salvador Allende’s socialist government in September 1973. The Convention’s delegates had attempted to forbid forever the neoliberal economic policies which Pinochet’s military government had road-tested for the free-market ideologues who would go on to guide Great Britain and the USA – and New Zealand – away from the social-democratic policies of the post-war years.
It was too much. Earlier this week, the Chilean people decisively voted down the new constitution which the Convention’s delegates had delivered to them. Like Allende’s Popular Unity Government before them, the delegates had pressed ahead with the radical vision of the future they were so certain would heal the harms of the past. Like the young socialists of 50 years ago, they would not be held back by the reservations of the conservative Chileans they derided as “Momios” (mummies of the Egyptian kind) and, once again, they have paid the price.
One of Allende’s advisers, Prof. Ariel Dorfman, looking back on those days, recalled:
It would take years to understand that what was so exhilarating to us was menacing to those who felt excluded from our vision of paradise. We evaporated them from meaning, we imagined them away in the future, we offered them no alternative but to join us in our pilgrimage or disappear forever, and that vision fuelled, I believe, the primal fear of the men and women who opposed us.
One of the most striking features of the controversial He Puapua Report is its authors’ assumption that constitutional changes every bit as radical and all-embracing as those just rejected in Chile can be introduced to New Zealand without a Constitutional Convention, and without being voted up, or down, in a binding referendum.
Undoubtedly, some of those who favour the dramatic changes proposed in He Puapua will look at what has just occurred in Chile and say: “See? That’s what happens when you give white supremacists the chance to strike down the just and necessary changes required to heal the harms of 200 years of colonisation!” The fate of the world’s most progressive constitution will be seen as vindication of the He Puapua authors’ horror of “the tyranny of the majority”.
But this would be an entirely mistaken conclusion for radical Māori nationalists to draw from the Chilean experience. The fundamental error of the Constitutional Convention was to allow the best to become the enemy of the good.
The harms of the past cannot be healed by legislating them out of existence from on high. Healing will only come kanohi ki te kanohi – face to face – through hard but honest conversations, over many frustrating years, until, unforced, and almost unaware, the overwhelming majority of Māori and Pakeha arrive at their long anticipated destination – together.
This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 9 September 2022.
"changes required to heal the harms of 200 years of colonisation"
I realise we are probably polar opposites here but anyway, in my opinion, the harms of the past have surely to god been erased by the benefits that such a past has now given us.
I don't need to detail those here as they are well known to all but as a nation we are allowing ourselves to solely focus on the minority of negatives.
With regard to he puapua. A few years ago I was chatting to a mate of mine, a CEO of a large insurance company and he stated that when they were seeking advice on possible changes, equipment or facilities, they always sought advice from a third party who was advised that while they would be well paid for their recommendations, they would not be considered for the task of implementation. That removed, to a certain extent, the opportunity for "tailored advice" whereby only what would benefit the advisor would make it onto the recommended list.
Yet here in New Zealand, we see the mahuta family at all ends of the issue from advice to implementation. Are the mahuta clan the only serious contenders for the delivery of a maori opinion and solution?
>The harms of the past cannot be healed by legislating them out of existence from on high. Healing will only come kanohi ki te kanohi – face to face – through hard but honest conversations, over many frustrating years, until, unforced, and almost unaware, the overwhelming majority of Māori and Pakeha arrive at their long anticipated destination – together.
This seems like wishful thinking when confronted with the tenor of the rhetoric employed by leftists. Take a browse through Twitter. The language is separatist, extremely anti-white, and even good-hearted attempts by Pakeha to learn te Reo, for instance, are treated with abuse and menace by some quarters, with the subjects of their ire told one day to embrace Tikanga Māori and te reo, or else, and the next day, told: Maori culture and the Maori language doesn't belong to you.
Always more fundamental is land. The rhetoric about land is firmly "land back!" - like, all of it. Claims that Pakeha made great contributions in toiling to build up the fat and the land are treated with absolute outrage. Any claim that Pakeha culture has value, at all, is derided.
Meanwhile, Meng Foon calls Pakeha "settlers" and creates another, for respectable, category for more recent arrivals: tangata tiriti.
Pakeha will be reluctant to do so, but if the current level of rhetoric, demands for overnight change, and disrespect continues, don't rule out a serious challenge to the sovereignty of Wellington, especially down South as "reforms" that may destroy the farming sector combined with demands that those hard broken-farms be handed on a plate to a few thousand, even a hundred, Maori, bite.
Very interesting and timely post Chris and I am surprised to see the paucity of comments.
Does that make you feel like your opinion is in the minority 😉
anon said: `This seems like wishful thinking when confronted with the tenor of the rhetoric employed by leftists.'
What I see re that is that the loudest and most aggressive have little or no Maori blood and are out and out left wing activists who have picked up on a cause that they can exploit.
At least the Chilean people had a say; any genuine discussion here, where it questions the co-governance re-write of our constitutional basis has been ignored, and the consultation process itself some sort of a sick joke. The excellent idea of having a proper discussion, drawing up a workable proposal and then putting it to the people is being championed by only one of the parties in parliament – ACT. The main reason I’m voting for them.
The obvious problem (with the Chilean proposal) was in the legalisation of ethnicity as a political category (and other binding but often contradictory and unworkable prescriptions) into the constitution; it therefore lacks the flexibility to deal with real world problems and changes through the years and actually created conflicting rights between groups. Particular injustices are best dealt with in a case by case basis with the constitution forming an overarching guideline only. The Chilean people wisely chose to reject the proposed constitution.
In our case, it looks as though the co-governance proposals are in breach of both our own civil rights legislation and the most fundamental article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – UDHR commits nations to recognize all humans as being “born free and equal in dignity and rights” regardless of “nationality, place of residence, gender, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status”. A legal challenge is being prepared I believe so hopefully we can see the end of this mad idea.
To: Gary Peters @ 17:21 11/9/22
No, not a minority, Gary. I'm certain that, if put to a referendum tomorrow, the He Puapua plan would be soundly defeated.
I am, however, equally sure that the opposition to co-governance is concentrated in the over-45 age-group.
The majority against co-governance will not endure forever.
Interesting, Chris - that the you feel the resistance to co-governance will fade over time. If I remember correctly, you contributed to the Listener over 50 years ago - I got a free copy as part of my job. This would mean you are older than I and probably won't be around to see that resistance fade. Is your blog picture eally up to date?
Until that under-45 age group reach 45, suddenly wake up on the conservative side of the bed (with a lot more to lose than in their free-spirited youth), and realise the error of their ways. We all get there, eventually. This is why conservatism endures.
Cheers Chris but I think your opinion on co-governance may be more akin to one of jacinda's aspirations 😉
To: Anonymous @ 11:17 on 12/9/22
No, it most certainly is not up-to-date, Anon.
I keep meaning to drop in a more recent photograph and - because I'm getting old and doddery - keep forgetting!
We are similar age, it's not the wrinkles in the cheeks that get you, it's the ones just above the belt ...... Bugger.
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