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Myth two: colonization is benevolent; therefore Maori ungrateful

In the Foreword to Ballara’s (1986) book, Hiwi Tauroa, former New Zealand Race Relations Conciliator, wrote that behind the expression “You Maoris are lucky that we English took over” is an unconsciously sown and carefully but continually nurtured attitude of the English culture that there is only one culture which expresses all that is good for “other” and “all people” (p. ix). Ballara points out that in the 1960s and 1970s the contention was popular; where there are two main cultures, one must give way. Because Maori culture is cultivated as “primitive,” “intellectually stagnant,” and altogether unsuited to the twentieth century, it (Maori) must give way. Moreover, while giving way, Maori had better acknowledge the benefits that have been bestowed on them by the “benevolent (British) benefactor,” the sentiments of which can be seen in the following Listener article 40 years ago:

The Maori has not yet left the seventeenth century. No wonder he is in trouble. He is trying to match seventeenth century concepts with twentieth century technology ... We will not change to suit the Maori. He has to change if he wants to enter the twentieth century. (cited in Ballara, 1986, p. 164)

The underlying premise is that “Maori are practically Stone Age people and ought to be grateful for colonization which brought them out of the

Stone Age and, if ungrateful, we can put them straight back there.” The following discourse perpetuates that myth that Pakeha colonization is good for Maori who ought to be grateful because they are Stone Age and would have remained solidified but for colonial invasion:

Quote from the Dominion Post, September 6, 2012 Letter: How Irish and Maori histories diverge.

However, there are also significant differences between the two histories [Irish and Maori]. Ireland/Eire and its people were, in many ways, at least as “advanced” as the British and received virtually nothing of value from their oppressors.

Maori, on the other hand [not advanced], have benefited enormously from a wide range of inventions and enterprise introduced from the northern hemisphere.

So, though Maori justifiably seek redress for what was taken from them, it would be pleasing to occasionally hear some expressions of gratitude for the many benefits they’ve received from Pakeha.

Or would they prefer that everything be just as it was before the foreigners arrived? (The Dominion Post, September 6, 2012)

This is yet another iteration of the “privilege” discourse, and illustrates the reach of the particular type of colonization—that of the British. What is even more insidious is the underlying assumption that Maori, “not advanced,” can only “advance” as determined by the other, that is, locked into a past/present, without futures. It is plainly a dehumanizing discourse full of Eurocentric ideology, with an underpinning denial of the right of the “other” people to self-determine.

And the British shall inherit the earth

The popular discourse promulgated in the earliest days of the colony’s formation is that the British were the “natural God given heirs” of New Zealand, and it should belong to them on the grounds of their being superior and “economically productive” whereas Maori were “non-productive” natives, as exemplified in the following:

The Natives subsist on the food we have brought them, pork and potatoes; and till we came, they wandered over a fair portion of the earth, without knowing the use of it. Before that the only animals they had to eat, except themselves, were rats, and their only fruit, poor wild berries. (Ballara, 1986, p. 47)

Ballara (1986) argued that this was of course promoted to deny Maori rights and was in direct contrast to the realities of the time when in fact many settlers in Auckland and Wellington were dependent on the food supplies cultivated and brought to market by the Maori. However, this recurring theme, both historically and currently, is that it was the British who bestowed the economic value to land and its resources, therefore Maori have no rights to economic advancement (because Maori can just revert to eating rats and berries). This idea was typical in the early colonial period because Maori were very successful traders, farmers, and millers, and were budding capitalists in the fishing and shipping industries. Maori productivity was therefore seen as a threat to British colonization. The theme of Maori having no rights to control land interests (and therefore economic productivity) is highlighted in the following types of discourse that surfaced in the early 1900s regarding Maori rental properties: “It seemed that to seek the most advantageous commercial terms was somehow disgraceful in a Maori, and could only be tolerated in civilised capitalists” (p. 80). This same theme is highlighted in the following discourse:

Quote from the Dominion Post, September 6, 2012 Letter: Government must reject Maori claims

OPINION: The Waitangi Tribunal has found that Maori have rights to water. Why? Because it has been “commercialised” by passing through a power turbine. And why is commercialised water any different from other water? Maori didn’t process water in 1840, so can’t have had a customary claim to commercialised water ... Water that has been treated for human consumption is also commercialised. If Maori own water that is commercialised through a turbine, they also have a claim to drinking water. There is actually a stronger argument with drinking water, because it retains its commercial character, and doesn’t become waste water straight away, as hydro-water does.

If Maori have an interest in water commercialised by others, it doesn’t follow that they also have an interest in the power companies using that water. Or does the companies’ brief use of “Maori water” make that power company part Maori-owned? The tribunal apparently thinks so.

By its logic, Maori would also have an interest in water utilities and our own houses, because we all use tap water. The idea that anyone owns water, and that rights to water lead to rights to other property, is illogical and must be rejected. (The Dominion Post, September 6, 2012)

This discourse is a good illustration of how the public consciousness can be beguiled into a false consciousness. The central issue—the selling out of our country—has been totally misrepresented as a public good and when Maori challenge the government monopoly of Maori lands and resources, and the government neoliberal agenda to sell out for profit (for the benefit of a few) and privatization, Maori are somehow made to look like the villains. Another irony: the government is still enforcing, though not explicitly, what it perceives to be its Treaty right of pre-emption3 on the one hand while it scandalously dishonors the Treaty on the other, through ongoing lands and resource confiscations.

Maori, constantly vilified in the media (a trend set down historically), are invariably positioned in the binary of enemy of the state (Maori), friend of the people (Pakeha view/policy), so that when an issue raised by Maori is played out in the public sphere there is an automatic default mechanism positioning that issue as “bad” and therefore “Maori” as “bad.” This is how the public consciousness is shaped. Maori claims are continuously presented in the media as contravening the general public interest’ as if Maori, “the enemy,” are somehow not part of the public interest. But the actuality is that Maori serve as exceptional critics and conscience of society. Many Maori, tirelessly skeptical, tend to question the perceived views apparent in media discourse; the motives of press and indeed powerful politicians; as to whether or not they purport to represent the interests of Maori and the public good. That is the critical element of Maori people’s resistance to the homogenizing impulse of modernity that Stewart-Harawira (2005) spoke of. Since the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, critical analysis has been hardwired into the DNA of Maoridom.

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